What’s Really Behind That Smile on The Cheshire Cat?

photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com


What’s Really Behind That Smile on The Cheshire Cat?

February 7, 2014

That distinctive grin we all associate with the Cheshire Cat was first referenced in 1788, from A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue, by Francis Grose, containing the phrase, “He grins like a Cheshire cat.” Said of anyone who shows his teeth and gums while laughing.

Cheshire Cat first appears in print in 1792, in John Wolcot’s pseudonymous Peter Pindar’s Pair of Lyric Epistles.  “Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin.”

Of course, most of us have come to know this famous feline from Lewis Carroll’s timeless tale of Alice in Wonderland, but its history is much deeper.  It is theorized that the phrase may have come from the fact that in the hamlet of Cheshire, England, the abundant number of dairy farms with their ever-flowing milk and cream supplies made the cats grin. (and wouldn’t you?)

Where the actual inspiration for the character in Carroll’s novel originated is not known, however there are speculations that he found inspiration in the 16th century sandstone carving of a grinning cat on the west face of St. Wilfrids Church tower in Grappenhall, near his birthplace. While a cat carving in St. Nicolas Church in Cranleigh strikingly resembles the cat we’ve come to know, it is more likely that a stone sculpture in St. Christopher’s church in Pott Shrigley, Cheshire resembles the pictorial cat in the book.


But what do we remember the most of our precocious pet?  Probably, the same as Alice. “I have often seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat.”



All images: thinkstockphotos.com

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