I'll take "Latin phrases" for $5, Alex
January 24, 2007 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Here's a phrase I doubt you Latin scholars ever expected to translate, but does anyone know what "you'll never see a dead cat in a tree" would be in Latin?
posted by chickygrrl to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
nunquam in arbore felem mortuam vidibis.
posted by greycap at 6:51 AM on January 24, 2007

I'd think that sentence would probably be in passive voice in Latin, something like "Nunquam felis mortuus in arbore videtur", never is a dead cat seen in a tree.
posted by fidelity at 7:15 AM on January 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Aeno expus updere.
posted by Phanx at 7:28 AM on January 24, 2007 [42 favorites]

If it's passive - which you're right is probably more accurate and elegant - then it needs to be "nunquam in arbore feles/felis mortua videtur" (cat is feminine).
posted by greycap at 7:47 AM on January 24, 2007

Phanx, had to read that out loud (it's been a LOOOONG day!) but I haven't stopped laughing since!
posted by Wilder at 8:22 AM on January 24, 2007

I've never heard that expression and haven't found it in a search; can you give some context for it? When would such a statement apply?

It looks as though it kind of means that everyone will eventually help themselves when push comes to shove, as a cat stuck in a tree will eventually get down even if it's scared.
posted by Miko at 9:10 AM on January 24, 2007

greycap: would it be feles or felis? Or are they interchangeable?

Miko: A couple of months ago my husband and I were discussing things that I could possibly get as a tattoo in memory of my grandfather, and he asked if my grandfather had ever given me any words of wisdom. My grandfather was quite the character and taught me a lot of things ranging from recognizing deer tracks, flag code, and how to gut a fish, he was also the type of man who had no problem at all convincing 4 year old me that if I "planted" rocks they'd grow into grass and other strange things. When I was about 10 and bothering him to tell me stories about his days as a firefighter, I asked him what they would do at the firestation when they got calls about cats stuck in trees. He told me that they would usually reply to the caller with "you'll never see a dead cat in a tree."

That was the phrase that immediately sprang to mind when asked about Pop's words of wisdom, and I've always thought of it exactly the way you describe it - you do what you need to do to survive.

So after a lot of joking around about it being the perfect tattoo and whether or not it would be better off with an accompanying picture of a cat in a tree, there was more joking about the phrase being in Latin. I'm still undecided about whether or not I actually go through with getting this tattooed on me, but if I did, Pop would love it.
posted by chickygrrl at 9:44 AM on January 24, 2007 [7 favorites]

that is a great story. for what it's worth, i think the tat would be better unaccompanied by a pic.
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2007

felis and feles seem to be interchangeable. My dictionary gives feles first but I think felis is more recognisable because it is used as the name for the genus, so I'd go with that. So it would be:

numquam in arbore felis mortua videtur

If I had realised it was for a tattoo I would have spent more time thinking about it before posting!
posted by greycap at 12:35 PM on January 24, 2007

My very limited research (Perseus)seems to point to feles as the slightly more correct nominative (and felis as its genitive). You'd probably thus want to use feles if you want good solid Latin, but felis is used by Pliny and Plautus, so you'd be in good company there too.
posted by fidelity at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2007

Numquam felis mortua in arbore videtur

(just a little nicer reading than the other translation)

Also, cattus is an acceptable word for "cat". "Feles" is generally a female cat, so "felis" is within bounds.
posted by briank at 3:04 PM on January 24, 2007

I always liked the Norman Mailer quote "Inter faeces et urinam nascimur." But not enough for a tattoo.
posted by davy at 3:37 PM on January 24, 2007

The fireman told me that very thing when I phoned about Evel being treed by the neighbor's Dalmation! It must be something they learn in fire college. (Sure enough, the little guy came down, but not before I screamed what sounded like "evil" in the backyard of a Christian home a few hundred times.)
posted by Scram at 3:40 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Numquam felis mortua in arbore videtur

I disagree but then again any combination is right :)
posted by greycap at 11:27 PM on January 24, 2007

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