Throw the cat among the pigeons
Throwing (also putting and setting) the cat among the pigeons is a British idiom used to describe a disturbance caused by an undesirable person from the perspective of a group.
Another use of the term is to "cause an enormous fight or flap, usually by revealing a controversial fact or secret", or in other words: to do something suddenly or unexpectedly which leaves the people worried or angry.
History and usage
The phrase originally referred to the disturbance likely to be created by putting a cat inside a dovecote (or dove house). This disturbance is caused by the cat's tendency to hunt and kill the birds, only made easier by their close proximity.
Similarity in other languages and cultures
Whilst being similar to other idioms such as the German-language phrase das fünfte Rad am Wagen (the fifth wheel on the car), in this case there is an element of aggression, and a power differential becomes the key element in the undesirability. The Spanish-language version of the phrase is alborotar a todo el palomar. In Russian, there is a proverb similar in meaning "пустить козла в огород" (let a goat into the garden).
In colonial India, a popular pastime was to put a wild cat in a pen with pigeons. Bets would be made on how many birds the cat would bring down with one paw-swipe. The period of the British colonisation of India may have introduced this concept, and hence the phrase to the English language.
In popular culture
- Jose, Sunil (22 March 2010). "Set the cat among the pigeons". Know Your English. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- "alborotar a todo el palomar". ProZ.com (in Spanish). Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- "Expressions & Sayings". Scorpio Tales. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Frisch, Sheryl. "Session 7: Throwing the Cat among the Pigeons: Keeping Visual Resources Viable through the Digital Transition". Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- "Re: A cat among pigeons". The Phrase Finder. 5 May 2002. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Jain, Dipti (12 March 2006). "What is origin of the phrase 'to set the cat among pigeons'?". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 October 2013.