Cat, hat; in French chat, chapeau

猫を被る
(Neko wo kaburu; “To play the cat”)

Definition:

To hide one’s true (wild or willful) nature and pretend to be quiet and obedient. Alternately, to pretend not to know about a situation that one is actually involved in or aware of. Used in a negative sense to convey duplicity.

Breakdown:

This verb phrase comprises a noun – (neko), “cat,” the object-marker particle (wo), and the verb 被る (kaburu). The latter often refers to the act of wearing something on one’s head, giving this idiomatic expression a cute mental image. The verb also has a surprising range of more-or-less related meanings, among them “to be similar” or “to act like.”

Notes:

This idiom can take the form of a verb phrase, as above, but it can also appear as the noun phrase 猫被り (neko-kaburi).

Some scholars theorize that neko in this phrase is actually a corruption of 寝茣蓙 (negoza), a sleeping mat of woven rushes. In this theory, the image is not one of affecting the quiet nature of a cat, but of pulling a sleeping mat over oneself.

Example sentence:

「あいつ、いつも人を虐めてるくせに、先生が来るとすぐ猫を被るなんて、もううんざりだ!」

(“Aitsu, itsumo hito wo ijimeteru kuse ni, sensei ga kuru to sugu neko wo kaburu nante, mou unzari da!”)

[“That jerk, he’s always bullying people, but he acts all innocent as soon as the teacher comes. I’m fed up!”]

Ranma Wearing Cats

らんま 1/2

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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