De noche todos los gatos son pardos

I’ve always liked this saying which has the literal meaning of ‘by night all cats are grey’.

I had assumed that it was in origin either Spanish or another romance language, as I had never heard or read of an English equivalent.

By the way pardo means dun or brownish-grey, and dun has a similar meaning: meaning dull, greyish brown, gloomy etc.

The meaning is that in the dark appearances don’t matter and that is is easy to be deceived in the dark. A slightly less literal interpretation is that in some circumstances it is easier to be fooled than in others.

In fact according to the cats were not in fact cats but madrileños. Madrid was apparently a hot-bed of crime and scullduggery back in the day, and presumably you had to keep your wits about you.

De noche todos los gatos son pardos was even used by Cervantes in 1615 in the Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero don Quijote de la Mancha.


By chance I consulted my Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (which belonged to my grandfather before me), and  it turned out that in 1546 John Heywood published his book of proverbs containing:

When all candels be out, all cats be grey.

This looks suspiciously like the origin of the proverb to me, or at least an earlier version than the use by Cervantes in 1615.

There is a wiki version which I’m not going to link to, as I’m pretty sure it is incorrect. It uses the american spelling of the word gray as opposed to the UK version which is in fact grey. The author was from the UK back in the 1500’s so the american spelling seems unlikely to say the least. The moral here is don’t trust everything you read on the internet kids;)

In fact, the proverb turns up all over the place, the Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett (and yes I have spotted that grey is now gray):

He knew not which was which; and, as the saying is, all cats in the dark are grey.

It was also used by Benjamin Franklin in 1745 when referring to the charms of older women.

There are naturally enough versions in other languages.

The Italians have two:

Di notte tutti i gatti sono grigi.

Di notte tutti i gatti sono bigi.

Grigio is of course grey, and bigio is perhaps surprisingly also grey.

And French:

La nuit tous les chats sont gris.

And Yiddish:

Bay nakht zaynen ale ki royt

At night all cows are black.

And Polish:

W nocy wszystkie koty są czarne

At night, every cow is black.

And German:

Nachts sind alle Katzen grau

I tried to find the proverb in Croatian by making up my own Croatian version and searching for it (Noću su sve mačke )

If you must know. It doesn’t exist in that form, but I did come across:

Noć u kojoj su sve krave crne

And so we are back to cows again krava being the Croatian for cow and krave cows .

I don’t know if it is used in the same sense in Croatian, or even if it is a ‘real’ Croatian proverb.

Besos, baci et pax,


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