Qui pendra la sonnette au chat?

Wednesday, 24 June, 2015

The expression to bell the cat means to hang a bell around a cat’s neck to provide a warning. Figuratively, it refers to a difficult or impossible to achieve task. According to the fable, The Mice in Council, often attributed to Aesop, a group of mice are so terrified by the house cat that one of them suggests a bell be placed around the enemy’s neck to warn of his arrival. Volunteers for the job are requested but no mouse steps forward.

Eustache Deschamps (1340–1406) was a medieval French poet and among his ballades is Les souris et les rats. The poem was written as a response to an aborted invasion of England in 1386 and contrasts French wavering in the face of English firmness. The chorus Qui pendra la sonnette au chat (who will bell the cat) became proverbial in France and the moral is the same as that of the the Aesop fable: a plan must be achievable or it is useless.

Nothing much has changed down the centuries. New players arrive and old powers disappear. Today, the USA is the cat and France is still the mouse, spied upon and cruelly taken advantage of by those with the bigger budgets, better technologies and lesser standards when it comes protecting privacy. This is utter tosh, of course, as France is no position to throw stones.

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