"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Friday, 1 February 2013

Who will bell the cat

‘Belling the Cat’ is a fable also known under the titles ‘The Bell and the Cat’ and ‘The Mice in Council’. Although often attributed to Aesop, it was not recorded before the Middle Ages and has been confused with the quite different fable of Classical origin titled ‘The Cat and the Mice’.  

The Fable concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses. The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan not only on how desirable the outcome would be, but also on how it can be executed. It provides a moral lesson about the fundamental difference between ideas and their feasibility, and how this affects the value of a given plan.

This illustration, for Jean de La Fontaine's fables, by Gustave Doré shows the 'rats' in council so his version of the fable must have had rats in place of mice.


  1. I've not come across this fable before (nor the expression "to bell the cat"), but of course this fits in nicely with what we were talking about on your other blog recently!

  2. Thanks for this - I'd never heard the expression and was therefore confused by the comment on Rambles.

  3. I recognize the story but I'm not sure where from.

  4. When my children were little there was a children's picture book called The Church Mouse which was based on this story.

    1. I'm afraid that title doesn't ring a bell... Haha! (We do have the saying to be poor as a church mouse, though.) I suppose I must have read it in some collection of fables.

  5. I was once the president of a small organization (tiny, really) and that phrase was one I implemented as policy. Anyone making a suggestion for a project had to head up said project. Greatly cut down on the suggestions.