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Q: Origin of the term "herding cats" ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Origin of the term "herding cats"
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: ooqeumbiy137-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 18 Feb 2003 09:03 PST
Expires: 20 Mar 2003 09:03 PST
Question ID: 163007
what is the origin of the term "like herding cats"
Subject: Re: Origin of the term "herding cats"
Answered By: answerfinder-ga on 18 Feb 2003 10:22 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear ooqeumbiy137-ga

The origin lies in the IT industry and the problems of managing
computer programmers and is an interesting example of how phrases
enter our language.

Search the phrase on Google and you’ll find 518 references to the
phrase "Managing senior programmers is like herding cats" attributed
to a Dave Platt. There are now other variations on the phrase but most
refer to managing people.

Who is this Dave Platt? He is a computer programmer and I found the
following posting by him on Google News Groups:

As much as I'd like to, I can't claim to be the originator of this
particular idiom. It's one I ran into years ago - I think I _may_ have
first heard it from Dale Luck (a guy I worked with at NTG and 3DO),
and I have a vague memory of hearing it originally ascribed to John
Dijkstra (but I could well be wrong about this). I do remember stating
it in the succinct fashion given above, a few years ago, in a USENET
post or some email... but I did not come up the original analogy.

The earliest version I've run across in a cursory Web search is: "At
Group L, Stoffel oversees six first-rate programmers, a managerial
challenge roughly comparable to herding cats.-- The Washington Post
Magazine, June 9, 1985"

 If anyone happens to know an earlier source for this analogy, I'd be
very interested in knowing it - please reply via email. A Web search
on "herding cats" turns up a really fascinating number of situations
which are of comparable difficulty... the concept seems to be a very
useful one. Just wanted to set the historical record straight...

I searched on LexiNexis, a news database, and the earliest use of it I
found was in The National Law Journal, dated November 21, 1988.

If you want to see how difficult it is to herd cats visit
The site is an advertising agency who have created a commercial for a
client using the analogy of herding cats. There is also a game.

I hope this answer your question. Please ask for clarification of this
research, or if the links do not work, before rating the answer.

Search strategy
"like herding cats"
"like herding cats" platt

Clarification of Answer by answerfinder-ga on 19 Feb 2003 02:44 PST
Dear ooqeumbiy137-ga 
Thanks for the tip. Pinkfreud's comment is very interesting. Perhaps a
few more comments may appear which will take the date even further
back in time.
ooqeumbiy137-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $1.00
thanks. Now, if only I'd bet on it ...

Subject: Re: Origin of the term "herding cats"
From: pinkfreud-ga on 18 Feb 2003 10:37 PST
I first encountered this amusing slogan when I attended the 1981 Mensa
Annual Gathering in Louisville, Kentucky. Several of the organizers of
the event were wearing custom-made T-shirts that said "Leading Mensans
Is Like Herding Cats ...All You Need Is Food." Anyone who has ever
been to a Mensa AG would know how apt the phrase is.

The shirt was so popular that it was soon mass-produced, and an
illustrated version of the T-shirt is still available from the Mensa
Subject: Re: Origin of the term "herding cats"
From: apteryx-ga on 17 Apr 2003 10:17 PDT
Hmmm . . . I was there, too, Pink . . . I have an idea we might know each other.


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