University of Arizona, Arizona State University, University of Southern California
Accountant for Make a Wish
25 April 2011
Folk simile- Like the Cat that ate the Canary
“So here’s something you can use. I was sitting with a friend eating lunch and we were talking about the grades. He was talking about how the teacher had graded everybody’s paper really hard. I, on the other hand, had gotten full marks. It was the highest grade in the class. All of the sudden, maybe ’cause my face gave away what I was thinking, he asked me how I did. I told him the score I had gotten on it. He then stated something to the fact of, ‘well aren’t you pleased with yourself? You look like the cat who ate the canary.’ I had never heard anybody actually say that before. It made sense though in the context, I was feeling pretty smug about the fact that I had done really well.” RA explained that basically it was a simile, however he didnt actually say the word. However, he did describe it well enough that I knew what he was talking about. Basically, he said that it meant that the person who “looks like the cat that ate the canary” is someone who is pleased with themselves.
I agree with the explanation that RA gave for the simile, however I would add that this simile could be used in several other contexts. In my opinion, it can also be used to describe someone who has gotten away with doing something devious or looks guilty about something they are hiding. The origin of the word probably did come from the connection between the look someone has on their face and a cat that was pleased that it caught a canary. The basis of this simile is that it is personifying/anthropomorphizing the animal, in this case a cat, with the human like qualities of smugness or being pleased with themselves. However, as someone who has owned a dog, I can say it’s not hard to give your pet human like qualities. I have personally heard this folk simile several times before.
Examples of this folk simile appear pretty frequently in other mediums. It’s no that difficult to see that this simile was used for the basis of the interactions between the characters Sylvester the cat and Tweety bird. For those who havent seen the old Looney Tunes cartoons by Warner Bros., Tweety is a yellow canary that is constantly being hunted by Sylvester the cat, who always ultimately fails to eat Tweety each episode.