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Jul 20, 2004
This week's theme
Animal terms

This week's words
running dog
Kilkenny cats
stool pigeon
charley horse
guinea pig

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Kilkenny cats

Pronunciation RealAudio

Kilkenny cats (kil-KEN-ee kats) noun

People who fight relentlessly till their end.

[From a pair of proverbial cats in Kilkenny, Ireland, who fought till only their tails were left.]

According to a story, some people in the town of Kilkenny in Ireland enjoyed tying the tails of two cats and watching them fight till only their tale was left behind. Most likely the story is a parable of a contest between Kilkenny and Irishtown, two municipalities which fought about their boundaries till little more than their tails were left. Here is a popular limerick (another word that takes its origins from the name of an Irish town) about the cats:

"There wanst was two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit
'Til instead of two cats there weren't any."

"State Opposition Leader Rene Hidding said conservation groups were 'fighting like Kilkenny cats after posturing on matters of high conscience.'"
Storm Hits Green Umbrella; The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia); Jun 17, 2004.

"When Lord Cranborne placed Hatfield House at the disposal of Unionists to talk things through in November 1997, the result was a meeting after the style of the fighting Kilkenny cats."
A Man of Parts; The Economist (London, UK); Apr 15, 2000.


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