What the cat brought in

Vietnam Heritage, March 2011 -- The way of life of cats has proved very useful to the Vietnamese in their sometimes roundabout ways of saying things about people. Here are some examples from The Vietnamese Dictionary of Sayings and Expressions, by Viet Chuong.
Mèo đến nhà thì khó, chó đến nhà thì giàu
The cat brings to the house poverty but the dog brings wealth
The people of old believed, and some still say, that when a cat suddenly comes to the house it is an omen of poverty and the sudden arrival of a dog announces forthcoming riches. Therefore, they welcome dogs and repel strange cats, sometimes throwing salt and rice after them, according to superstition.
Mèo già hóa cáo   
An old cat turns into a fox
Many people believe that an old cat is transformed into a fox, becoming a liability to its owner.
Perhaps they see that an old cat becomes more wily and may catch their chickens, as it is weaker in sight and movement and unable to catch mice.
The Vietnamese tend to feed their cats sparingly in order to keep them vigilant in the hunting of mice in the house.
They hang their food up to stop dogs getting it and cover it to thwart cats (chó treo mèo đậy).
The figurative meaning is that longevity helps wisdom through experience and the new servant cannot match the shrewdness of the owner.
Mèo khen mèo dài đuôi
The cat praises its own long tail
The cat is similar to the tiger, even in its long tail. Its posture is imposing thanks to the tail, which acts as a rudder in somersaults and acrobatics in hunting. The cat is justifiably proud of its tail. The saying remarks on the natural bent of self-praise among people.
Mèo mả gà đồng
The cat in the cemetery, the chicken in the field
The cat in the cemetery is a wild animal, without a master, and the same goes for the chicken in the field.
This is an allusion to vagrants, rascals and prostitutes who cause trouble to the community and do not get the respect of anyone.
Mèo mù móc cống
A blind cat lives from the gutter
Cats are raised to catch mice and rats and their skill affords them a living. A blind cat is useless in the eradication of rodents and is abandoned by its master, to save rice. This is a reference to people who have no means of supporting themselves.
Mèo mù vớ được cá rán
A blind cat comes upon a fried fish
A blind cat is useless in catching mice and rats to earn its living, so it is always hungry. Then it comes upon a delicious fried fish. What a great meal! This expression is used when unexpected luck comes to a person in misery.
Mèo nào cắn mỉu nào
Whichever cat can bite whichever other cat
Everyone is convinced of his self-worth, at least intelligence, in comparison with others, so nobody is willing to accept his shortcomings. If there is a debate or a fight, nobody is willing to accept defeat.
Mèo nào từ mỡ
No cat is willing to abandon fat
The cat is addicted to fat. When a feast is prepared at home, people spread fat on the cat’s mouth, so it will sit by itself in a secluded place and lick its lips and forget about stealing food. The allusion is about avarice.

A cat climbs a coconut tree looking for mice. The mice have been away buying food as a gift towards the cat’s father’s death anniversary Picture: Dang Mau Tuu

Làm như mèo mửa
Working like a vomiting cat
Everybody wants to accomplish a beautiful, lasting work done with art and skill.
No one likes to see clumsy, ugly and awkward work. To work like a vomiting cat is without responsibility and earns blame and disrespect from all.
Mắng mèo như chửi chó
To reprimand the cat and curse the dog
The Vietnamese people have many ways to speak cruelly. In the oblique ‘reprimanding of the cat and cursing the dog’ those who are the real targets may be hurt to the core, as they understand what is going on.
When a guest is unwelcome, the host may use a broom to sweep the floor as a gesture of indirect expulsion.
When a guest stays too long, the host may order a member of the household to make a noise in the kitchen, striking bowl with chopsticks, as if in preparation for dinner. If friends or relatives stay in the house for many days, the homeowner may reprimand the cat and curse the dog because they consume too much rice. The guest would understand and leave.
Chó tha đi, mèo tha lại
The dog takes it outside, the cat brings it back in
Dogs and cats are gluttonous and vigorously defend their food. Food taken out by the dog and brought in by the cat then abandoned by both is absolutely worthless. The allusion is to wretched people without values.
Tiu ngỉu như mèo cụt tai
Forlorn as a cat with its ears cut
The cat nearly always has the face of a philosopher in deep mediation. It expresses joy only through putting its ears erect.
The cat uses its paws to rub its ears.
The expression refers to a person with nothing to take an interest in.

Dictionary of Vietnamese Sayings and Expressions, Viet Chuong, Dong Nai Publishing House, Dong Nai, 2007, in Vietnamese

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