(Neko mo shakushi mo;
“Even cats and serving-spoons”)
Everyone and everything. “All that and the kitchen sink.” “Everyone and their brother.” Everything at hand, thrown together in a jumble without distinction. I get the impression that this phrase is primarily used to refer to large groups of people who share in a behavior or quality.
This simple phrase consists of a pair of nouns, each followed by the emphatic particle も (mo). The first noun is 猫 (neko), “cat,” and the second is 杓子 (shakushi), a traditional serving spoon.
杓子 is often translated as “ladle” (including by me, in a previous post) but this is a bit misleading. The original bamboo spoon appears to be more flat and paddle-like, although there’s also a design that amounts to a tiny cylindrical cup at the end of a long stick, and modern usage has expanded to include Western-style ladles as well.
The origins of this phrase are unclear. Theories have been advanced suggesting that the terms are corruptions of phonetically similar words, that both cats and serving-spoons are common and accessible in many households, that shakushi are shaped similarly to cats’ paws, or that it comes from a collection of anecdotes about the famous Zen monk Ikkyū, appropriately titled 『一休咄』 (Ikkyuu-banashi, “Tales of Ikkyū”).
(“Pikunikku ni tomodachi wo suunin dake sasotta hazu na no ni, itsu no ma ni ka neko mo shakushi mo atsumatta nigiyaka na paatii ni natte shimatta.”)
[“I’m pretty sure I only invited a handful of friends to the picnic, but at some point absolutely everyone showed up and it turned into a noisy party.”]