1

"To bell a cat" is a phrase which means "Doing an impossible task". I need to translate this phrase into Spanish to narrate a story.

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    The definition I found for that is "(idiomatic) To undertake a dangerous action in the service of a group." As it is "From a mediaeval fable in which mice want to put a bell round the cat's neck but cannot agree who should do it." – Martin Smith Apr 3 '15 at 16:57
  • @Martin, I agree. In my case, I was using this phrase to narrate a story to a kid who happens to be studying Spanish as his second language. So, I thought expressing a tough task using the above expression might be appropriate. Could you please suggest an alternative? – Vidya Sagar Panati Apr 7 '15 at 7:18
8

There's an almost literal version of that phrase in Spanish, ponerle el cascabel al gato, meaning "to do something very risky, dangerous or very difficult".

  • I heard sometimes this expression when you expect a decission or action from a group of people a ver quien le pone el cascabel al gato :) – alphamikevictor May 7 '15 at 14:57
  • @alphamikevictor Indeed, its origin is a fable by Félix de Samaniego (though guess the story was older) in which a group of mice decided to literally put a bell on a cat but no mouse dared to to do it. – JMVanPelt May 7 '15 at 16:32
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    @JMVanPelt it's origin was probably medieval [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belling_the_cat] – roetnig Mar 1 '17 at 15:16
2

I guess that the rationale of the phrase is that a cat wouldn't let you put a bell on it. There is a similar expression in Spanish meaning something similar:

Poner una pica en Flandes.

A pica is a spear-like weapon. Flandes is a designation for the Netherlands. The sentence conveys how difficult it was for Carlos V to get his soldiers to the Netherlands (he didn't have good routes, neither by land or sea, since he was engaged in many wars with different countries).

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La Rendición de Breda, por Diego Velázquez

  • Quite good answer. But "Flandes is a designation for the Netherlands" ... you for sure mean at that time; now Belgium. Maybe obvious for us, but for Spanish learners it might not be obvious what now Flandes means. – c.p. Apr 3 '15 at 19:26
  • You're right: elaborating more on that, at the time, Flandes meant for the Spaniards roughly the whole Low Countries, that is, the territory that consisted for the most part of present-day Belgium and the (Kingdom of the) Netherlands, as Spain didn't accept the Flemish Protestants' (i.e. the Dutch) independence for many years. Present-day Flanders is roughly just the Flemish- (Dutch-) speaking part of the Kingdom of Belgium. – JMVanPelt Apr 6 '15 at 0:20

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