Sunday, November 10, 2013


Don asked why cats are said to have nine lives. When you consider that some cultures think that cats have only seven lives, it does seem rather arbitrary.

It’s a superstition based on the observation that cats seem to have a knack for escaping death because of their speed and agility. One of the earliest quotes linking cats and nine lives appeared in 1584, though it contains an unexpected reversal:

“For witches haue gone often in that like­nes, And therof hath come the prouerb as trew as common, that a Cat hath nine liues, that is to fay, a witch may take on her a Cats body nine times.”  [Gulielmus Baldwin, Beware the Cat, 1584, London]

The number nine has been regarded as special across the centuries and across cultures. In Egyptian theology, in order for a soul to enter the afterlife, it had to pass the scrutiny of nine gods. The Greeks venerated the Nine Muses, nine goddesses who ruled over the arts and sciences. Christian epistles speak of the nine gifts of the Spirit (1Corinthians 12:8-10) and the nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Numerically, nine is the last single-digit number. Many people thus associate it with completion, perfection, and power. In itself, the number three represents perfect symmetry, so the fact that nine is three times three gives it extra significance. In the illustration above, notice that the nine-pointed star is formed by superimposing three different triangles.

One really weird observation that many mathematicians have made is that if you multiply ANY number by nine, then add the resulting numbers together, they always add up to nine.
·      9 x 2 = 18;  1 + 8 = 9.
·      9 x 3 = 27;  2 + 7 = 9.
·      9 x 4 = 36;  3 + 6 = 9.
·      9 x 15 = 135;  1 + 3 + 5 = 9.
·      [Try some more on your own.]

As an English major, I have no idea what is operating behind the scenes here. And, come to think of it, none of this explains why some people think that cats have nine lives.

So, never mind.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

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