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Bell the cat

To bell the cat means to attempt or agree to attempt an impossibly difficult task that if achieved, will benefit the entire community. The idiom bell the cat comes from a fable attributed to Aesop called the Mice in Council. In the fable, a group of mice decide that the best way to deal with a murderous cat is to put a bell around his neck so that he can no longer sneak up on the mice. The trouble comes when it’s time to decide which mouse will be the one to risk his life to put the bell around the cat’s neck. None of the mice will volunteer, and the moral of the fable is don’t only consider the outcome when making plans; the plan itself must be achievable or it is useless. Today, to bell the cat means to risk one’s well-being in order to perform a difficult task that if achieved, will benefit the entire community. Related terms are bells the cat, belled the cat, belling the cat.


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Examples

“These are the mice trying to bell the cat — only they can’t get one mouse to go out and do it,” he said. (The Washington POst)

There is politics – everyone knows triple talaq and halala are oppressive to women but who will bell the cat? (The Times of India)

But it fell to a Nationals backbencher to bell the cat about what many voters fear: the potential for more instability and infighting within either side should the election result be close. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Acting within their autonomous powers SBP and NAB can bell the cat to save the future. (The Nation)

And just as well because where no one is prepared to bell the cat, proverbial natural justice takes over, which is what appears to have happened, and where one hopes there shall be no NROs this time. (The Pakistan Observer)

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