The nearest I can get to a cat in the pan - a cat in a sink! - photo by ♥ellie♥

Turn the cat in the pan is an old phrase that is interesting but it has little to do with cats unfortunately! Still, I am going to write about it nonetheless. The phrase is probably more accurately said:

“To turn cat in the pan” or “turn'd the Cat in Pan”

Here is an extract from The Gentleman's magazine, Volume 88, Part 1. that talks about this phrase. It is described in the magazine as a “common adage”. The magazine is dated 1818. Times have changed. The author also refers to William Shakespeare and his use of the word cate.

The magazine’s author explains how language was corrupted. The word “cate” used by William Shakespeare refers to a cake. In losing the “e” at the end it had been corrupted to cat. You would expect to see a cake in a pan while it is being prepared but not a cat! That is why the phrase sounds odd.

And as the cake is prepared it is turned over. This reflects the change of stance or principles of a person on an issue for his or her own benefit. The phrase is used in the song “The Vicar of Bray”, which is a satirical song that recounts the career of the Vicar of Bray who had to change his principles to fit in with the religious upheavals in England from 1533 to 1559 and from 1633 to 1715 which made it almost impossible for any individual to comply with the successive religious requirements of the state. Here is an extract from the song

When William our Deliverer came,

To heal the Nation's Grievance,

I turn'd the Cat in Pan again,

And swore to him Allegiance:

Old Principles I did revoke,

Set conscience at a distance,

Passive Obedience is a Joke,

A Jest is non-resistance.

OK, we have history, language, cats, cakes and William Shakespeare all on the same page…..:-)

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Turn the Cat in the Pan

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Nov 19, 2009
Hi Ruth
by: Michael

Hi Ruth, thanks for the comment. As I get a bit older (!) I find this sort of thing more interesting too. It is interesting to see how things have changed and I think it sheds light on what we are doing now sometimes.

Nov 19, 2009
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

A fascinating article thanks Micheal.Being very interested in genealogy and days gone by, I love reading old fashioned language and its meanings, like this.
That's a gorgeous cat in the picture too !

Michael Broad

Hi, I am 70-years-of-age at 2019. For 14 years before I retired at 57, I worked as a solicitor in general law specialising in family law. Before that I worked in a number of different jobs including professional photography. I have a longstanding girlfriend, Michelle. We like to walk in Richmond Park which is near my home because I love nature and the landscape (as well as cats and all animals).

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