"How to Keep Your Cat, c. 1470"
September 13, 2014 1:10 PM   Subscribe

If you have a good cat and you don't want to lose it, you must rub its nose and four legs with butter for three days, and it will never leave the house.

Ask The Past, a blog edited by Dr. Elizabeth Archibald, offers "advice from old books". Really old books. These ancestors of today's DIY manuals and self-help books offer practical (if only occasionally effective) suggestions for perennial problems such as how to mouse-proof your cheese and how to tell if someone is dead or not (Hint: weasel brains and roasted onions, respectively.)
Even Erasmus himself weighs in on how to fart.

Dr. Archibald is a historian focusing on education and literacy in medieval Europe. Examining the role of books in society, particularly after the invention of the printing press allowed dissemination of information more broadly than ever before, she suspects that some of these how-to books were not entirely serious. "Manuals of the past were more interested in the various possibilities of the form, including entertainment". Hmm, probably best not to try this method for getting rid of bedbugs with gunpowder.
posted by Quietgal (63 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you. I am now imagining a world where people cough to hide their weasel cheese farts.

Serious LOL'ing going on here.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:16 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you rub its legs with butter it will never be able to land.
posted by stevis23 at 1:22 PM on September 13, 2014 [16 favorites]


I have been told the cat butter thing by many people.
posted by The Whelk at 1:28 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


If we did that with our cats they wouldn't leave the catbox for a week, so I guess it would work maybe.
posted by happyroach at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]




Ah, putting out a fire with cat urine, the best of all possible smells.
posted by angerbot at 1:34 PM on September 13, 2014 [20 favorites]


For the inverse of this, where questions from the past are answered in the present, try Pod. F. Thompcast's "Advice for the Probably Dead."
posted by Navelgazer at 1:40 PM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


A lot of these are indistinguishable from half the crap I get in my Facebook feed. Look, another great use for vinegar!
posted by gimli at 1:40 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Buttered cats previously on MeFi - one of the best things I've ever read here.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:42 PM on September 13, 2014 [17 favorites]


What I remember of the buttered cat thing was that you wanted him to lick his paws. If he licked his paws he wouldn't leave.
posted by Trochanter at 1:52 PM on September 13, 2014


Who has three entire days to spend buttering a cat, even in 1470?
posted by Lyn Never at 1:54 PM on September 13, 2014 [11 favorites]


quietgal, i heard this advice about nine years ago when i adopted a cat from my ex. after a two-hour horrible drive, i wanted the cat to become acclimated to her new home before i let her out. a friendly waitress (who is also the chairwoman of the local volunteer fire department) advised me to rub butter on the cat's paws. i dismissed her advice, and when i finally let my cat out, she ran under my house. i frantically emailed my ex "madeline is under my house" and the reply came back "she'll come out." she did.

after six good years (madeline was 8 y.o. at the start of this story) the cat reposes in a grave next to my driveway, marked with striking, gorgeous rocks. the ex is doing even better; i attended her wedding one week ago today, as a friend of the bride.
posted by bruce at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Trying to rub butter all over a cat is why people didn't live very long in 1470.
posted by NorthernLite at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2014 [37 favorites]


I've always heard that you need to carry the cat around the fireplace three times, and then press its front paws against the mantle. Different countries, different cats, different customs, obviously.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm so suspicious nowadays, I wonder if the writers of these "helpful" manuals weren't just shills for the weasel wranglers and butter hawkers. Like an old Crisco Cookbook where recipes always start with "2 cups Crisco," even though you just want to make lemonade.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:00 PM on September 13, 2014 [32 favorites]


The day I stop drinking greasy lemonade is the day you'll have to hold roasted onions to my nose.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:10 PM on September 13, 2014 [41 favorites]


Holy crap this is not how you play with a cat

Depends what's meant. When one plays with, for instance, a football, one does it for one's own amusement, and not to make the football happy.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:13 PM on September 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


Lyn Never: Who has three entire days to spend buttering a cat, even in 1470?

You'd presumably have a serf or two apply ye olde katt byttre. That's no work for a lord on the go.
posted by dr_dank at 2:17 PM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


Howe to mayke Sporte with a Cat


Howe to withdrawe ye Catspoope from one's Poulaines, Hoserie, or Hatte

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:23 PM on September 13, 2014 [26 favorites]


This is yet another of those old fashioned prescriptions where I'm wondering if the effect precedes the cause. One assumes that if a cat will let you butter its nose and feet on three separate occasions, said cat definitely is the sort that is willing to put up with all sorts of nonsense from the help humans.
posted by Sara C. at 2:23 PM on September 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


How to play with a cat - "Some have shod a Cat round, with putting melted Pitch into foure Walnut-shels, and placing her feet therein, and she will make pretty sport." - lol - i mean that's awful
posted by zeoslap at 2:25 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Howe to mayke Sporte with a Cat

Looke ye upon thys swyving hypstere
posted by poffin boffin at 2:29 PM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


Holy crap this is not how you play with a cat

Indeed - don't show this to young children, for they will torment cats and say "I learned it from a book, see?"
posted by filthy light thief at 2:29 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


i don't butter him all up or anything, but my cat LOVES butter and comes begging for a little every time i make eggs. if his poop has been pretty regular, i oblige. supposedly cuts down on hairballs.
posted by nadawi at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lette me checke yon YoueTube for thee Walnut trickke
posted by happyroach at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remember reading the butter thing (just the paws, not the nose) from a cat owner's manual that my parents had from the 60s or 70s. I totally wanted to try it when we got a new cat when I was little, and my mother banned the idea on the grounds that she did not have time to stitch up the inevitable shredding of my arms that would ensue if I tried it (also, whatever nasty margarine we were using at the time probably would've poisoned the poor thing).
posted by TwoStride at 2:42 PM on September 13, 2014


Yeah, margarine only works on whatever species Hello Kitty turned out to be.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


Nobody cares about what Momo said and nobody wants to see those woodcuts of your pilgrimage.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


Things not to do to freshmen
posted by The Whelk at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Buttered cats previously on MeFi - one of the best things I've ever read here.

OMG, the song! THE SONG!!!
posted by Jacqueline at 3:00 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, margarine only works on whatever species Hello Kitty turned out to be.

Officially not a cat
posted by MartinWisse at 3:18 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Fore ye myriade Abuſes and Humiliations commyt'd upon ye Freſhmen, Those styl'd ye Goode Brothers of Pſi Upſilon are Herewyth declaire'd Ex Communicato & Anathema untill ſuch tyme as they might Repente and ceaſe ye Sinfull & Deteſtable Practyſe of Hayzinge.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:20 PM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Officially not a cat

That official statement was wildly misunderstood. Hello Kitty is not a cat insofar as she is not actually a furry quadruped. She is, however, a cartoon anthropomorphic feline.
posted by Shmuel510 at 3:29 PM on September 13, 2014


I have read Ode To A Buttered Cat at Burns Night.
posted by maryr at 3:44 PM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


I can't imagine any cat I've ever met objecting to being supplied with/ rubbed down with delicious butter.
posted by bleep at 4:09 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Say what you will of the advice, that is the best damn picture of a cat churning butter any of us will ever see.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


how to fart

Got that covered already; thanks anyway, Erasmus.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:43 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


How To Impress Girls At A Dance also leads with important fart-based advice.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:44 PM on September 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


Your woman too fat? Bathe her in cow shit and wine.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:55 PM on September 13, 2014


Why were people in Ye Olden Times so concerned about edema, anyway? I feel like anytime I look in an old book, it's like dropsy dropsy dropsy.
posted by Sara C. at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


So apparently when the Dutch colonized Manhattan one of their sports was this piñata-like game where you trapped a cat in a barrel, and then the object of the game was to set the cat free by battering the barrel open I think maybe on horseback.

So, you know, we deserve whatever toxoplasmosis and clawed limbs that we get, really.
posted by angrycat at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


Wow we did the cat buttering thing whenever we moved house in the 90s, the idea is they spend the first days licking their paws instead of running away. Probably came from my grandma who was full of folk remedies including how to pass your warts on to the postman.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:11 PM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


This blog is just painfully funny - not putting boiled lizard on my hair or using dead bees to grow a beard nope!
posted by leslies at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love this blog. That is all.
posted by immlass at 6:31 PM on September 13, 2014


Yeah, here to echo Joe Chip and say that the buttered cat paws really works for moving. I've done it for years. Do it just as or before you arrive in your new place, during the cat decanting process. No, your cat will not eviscerate you if you spread butter on her paws, more just be sort of baffled and hmmmm, butter - but she won't want to walk on them, either, so she will take enough time to lick them off that it calms her down and she won't just instinctively bolt.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:38 PM on September 13, 2014 [11 favorites]


Some have shod a Cat round, with putting melted Pitch into foure Walnut-shels, and placing her feet therein, and she will make pretty sport

Kitten Mittons!
posted by scalefree at 7:41 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, you know, we deserve whatever toxoplasmosis and clawed limbs that we get, really.
posted by angrycat at 8:54 PM on September 13 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


eponysterical
posted by Jacqueline at 7:50 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Once I have made cheese out of weasel brains, I am not totally sure I will care if the mice get at it.
posted by jeather at 8:09 PM on September 13, 2014


On the other hand, it's convenient to have a pre-written letter to mail to a friend on the sad occasion of them losing their left arm. I assume there's a different letter available should they lose their right arm.
posted by jeather at 8:13 PM on September 13, 2014


Considering how many times my cat has jumped onto my keyboard while trying to type this, I'm totally on board with buttering cats.

I mean, you'll still lose. But at least the fight will seem more fair.
posted by Cyrano at 8:19 PM on September 13, 2014


We had a deal, Kyle: "Got that covered already; thanks anyway, Erasmus."

only because you stand upon the shoulders of giants.

. . .

because if you didn't you'd probably smother in their antediluvian flatus
posted by boo_radley at 8:21 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


No woman desires a man with rabies.

Well, shit. I've been doing it all wrong.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:31 PM on September 13, 2014 [9 favorites]


No idea about buttering cats, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than coating a bat in strychnine tainted vaseline. But I digress. Apologies to all.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:53 PM on September 13, 2014


Considering how many times my cat has jumped onto my keyboard while trying to type this, I'm totally on board with buttering cats.

Considering how determined cats can be, you'd probably just end up with a buttered keyboard.
posted by ktkt at 10:05 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


So the theory I've heard on buttering cats is this: A cat will only groom itself if it feels calm and safe --> If you butter the cat's paws, you are basically tricking it into grooming itself --> The cat associates grooming with feeling calm and safe --> PROFIT!

This could of course be complete horseshit.
posted by shiny blue object at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have been told the cat butter thing by many people.

It's difficult to get enough milk from them to make the butter. I think it's a myth.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:31 PM on September 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


How to compliment a lady: "Her breasts are soft and tender as the Pelican's."

Okay, talk me through the reasoning on this one.

We need something to compare women's boobs to. Let's think about thi--Oh, wait, I know! Birds. Birds are soft (and feathery and that's totes weird but whatever).

Let's definitely go with the bird analogy, I think we can agree we're on to something there. I mean, it's very nearly perfect in fact.

But we don't want to be too hasty. I don't think we can categorically compare a woman's bosom to just any bird. There are standards to uphold.

A swan won't cut it. Don't even get me started on robins. I can maaaybe make a weak case for a pigeon..

But now a Pelican....

I can't even.
posted by misha at 12:24 AM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would bet the Pelican breast refers to the Christian symbolism attached to the bird--the myth that the pelican was so self-sacrificing that it would rend its own breast to feed its young with its blood if no other food could be found. This somehow became a symbol for the Eucharist.
posted by lovecrafty at 1:24 AM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


I love that blog. What kind of wine should I give my toddler?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:34 AM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


So apparently when the Dutch colonized Manhattan one of their sports was this piñata-like game where you trapped a cat in a barrel, and then the object of the game was to set the cat free by battering the barrel open I think maybe on horseback.

Danes still do this at Fastelavn - although we have now replaced the actual cat with a picture of a cat. Whichever child manages to smash the barrel (full of delicious sweets) is crowned Cat King or Cat Queen.
posted by kariebookish at 4:14 AM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


I mentioned the cat buttering thing on the phone to my mom this morning and even before I finished she cut me off and finished the sentence for me. She then went on to say that when she and my dad moved into the house I would grow up in, she was advised to do this with the two cats; not, as some have speculated, to trick them into grooming themselves and relaxing through conditioning them, but rather to get them to remove any scents of the old house so they wouldn't be setting forth to seek it out.

So what was current advice in 1470 was apparently still current advice in 1970.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:28 AM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, you know, we deserve whatever toxoplasmosis and clawed limbs that we get, really.
posted by angrycat

eponysterical


Previously, angrycat also accidentally discovered that wax does not work as well as butter.
posted by fraula at 7:30 AM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fascinating .
posted by spock at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


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