no more to be trusted than a cat with a saucer of milk

just.am

Member
Czech
The whole sentence is "She was no more to be trusted with news than a cat with a saucer of milk."

I find it quite curious, is it an English idiom? I couldnt find it in any dictionary nor Internet. I suppose it obviously means she cannot be trusted at all, but what that cat thing has to do with it? Does it imply that if you give a cat food than there is no motivation left for her to be loyal to you?

I would very much need to know, whether it is a usual expression, an idiom, or merely just a metaphor that the author invented, since I am not a native speaker I cannot tell properly. Thanks!
 
  • Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    No, it's not an idiom: it means what it says and is a straightforward analogy, relying on knowledge of cats and their relationship with milk.

    You have to work out in what way a cat cannot be trusted with a saucer of milk. As cat's are said to like milk very much, a cat cannot be trusted with it's safekeeping: it will drink it. In a similar way, she cannot be trusted with the safekeeping of news (that is, she cannot keep it to herself), as, presumably, she likes to gossip.
     

    just.am

    Member
    Czech
    All right, now I got it. I am afraid it is not that straightforward in my language.

    So, you think, it may be roughly re-worded as this: "she was likely to keep the news for herself no more than the cat is likely to spare a saucer of milk for later use"
    or "That she will keep it to herself was as probable as cat leaving a milk in a saucer."

    I ll have to translate it in that sense, cause I think no one would otherwise understand how a cat with a saucer of milk can be somehow less reliable than without it.

    Thank you so much.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If Czech cats don't like milk, you should probably change to a different idea - surely there's something there that likes something - horses and bag of oats, a thief and a gold watch, ... :)
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I see your difficulty. You misunderstand "with". "With", here, does not mean "accompanied by" or possessing (the opposite of "without"). "With" means "in respect to", here; the phrase does not mean "A cat cannot be trusted when when it has milk". It means: when it comes to milk, a cat cannot be trusted not to drink it. Similarly, when it comes to news, the girl cannot be trusted to keep it to herself.
     

    just.am

    Member
    Czech
    Oh, Myridon, that's not the problem, Czech cats have an appetite just like all the other cats :), but you can't talk about trusting in that way - in Czech it is more about faith, reliance and so on, more like personal characteristic than a verb/"doing something". The analogy from a Czech point of view is kind of funny, because it really implies that there is something morally wrong about cat drinking its milk, just like it is morally wrong not to keep a secret. See, its difficult to explain... but I ll use the probability to illustrate the point and it should be fine.
     

    just.am

    Member
    Czech
    I see your difficulty. You misunderstand "with". "With", here, does not mean "accompanied by" or possessing (the opposite of "without"). "With" means "in respect to", here; the phrase does not mean "A cat cannot be trusted when when it has milk". It means: when it comes to milk, a cat cannot be trusted not to drink it. Similarly, when it comes to news, the girl cannot be trusted to keep it to herself.
    Yes to Czech ear it is quite incomprehensible because we don't use that preposition in both meanings, we just use "with" in that possessive way, we cannot even say "trust with news" - so the analogy is just too elliptic for our lenghty language :)
     

    ekbatana

    Senior Member
    German Austria
    Hi! You've probably stumbled accross this methaphor in Christopher Isherwood's 2008 novel where he says ... "no more to be trusted (with news) than a cat with a saucer of milk". So I guess you can use it as people understand the meaning anyway.

    You might use "to send a fox to guard the henhouse" which is more common instead - meaning there is no reason to trust a fox not to eat eggs.
     
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