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"The cat crawls from one end of the table to the other, entering at the one end and exiting at the other"

I am researching a speech, and part of the talk is about saying things in a concise manner.

In Afrikaans, we have a saying "Die kat kruip onderdeur die tafel." Roughly translated to English, it means "The cat crawls from one end of the table to the other, entering at the one end and exiting at the other" which in itself is not 100% correct, because the Afrikaans version implies that the cat was not under the table in the first place.

I can think of "The cat passes underneath the table" and that is as close as I can get, but the meaning of the word "passes" means it can roll, dart, crawl or even hoola-hoop from the one end to the other, so it does not really mean the same thing.

I would really feel like a fool if I go and do my speech, and a member from the audience chimes up with the correct version. How can I say the English version of this phrase shorter and/or more accurately?

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    The cat crawls across the table? But if it has a metaphorical meaning, you haven't conveyed that idea clearly enough for me to guess what English idiom this phrase connects with. (Metaphorical: In English "the cat's out of the bag" = the secret is out.) – Steven Littman Nov 10 '17 at 11:50
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    @StevenLittman The phrase seems to require the cat to be under the table, which isn't clear from Kobus' current draft version. However, as this is a famous example of an untranslatable phrase, I think we may be being sent on an errand for striped paint.. – Spagirl Nov 10 '17 at 12:13
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    You've translated the sentence, but you identify it as a saying. As a saying, how and when is it used? Then perhaps we can identify an English equivalent rather than just giving a literal translation. – MetaEd Nov 10 '17 at 20:13
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    @Clare, "die kat kruip" means nothing more or less then "the cat crawls". The difficulty in translating comes from "onderdeur" which means "under" (onder) and "through" (deur) at the same time. This tells us that the cat starts from a place next to the table and ends at a place at the other end or side, also next to the table, not under it. If it was still under the table, it did not go "through". Maybe this is still not unambiguous in English translation, but it is in Afrikaans or Dutch. – Draakhond Nov 11 '17 at 16:16
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    @Edwin They do all kinds of things we don't even have words for: youtube.com/watch?v=YBVy7LG9DBA – Zaaikort Nov 13 '17 at 10:19
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The cat crawls through the space under the table.

If the table were a door, it would likely be understood that "the cat crawls under the door" does not mean the cat stays under the door. Cf. "...if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door" from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. "The cat crawls under the table" on the other hand suggests it stays there.

I can understand Afrikaans a bit because it is closely related to Dutch, my native language. "Onderdeur" ("onderdoor" in Dutch) can be to literally translated into "underthrough". So the original sentence from Afrikaans might become: "The cat crawls through under the table". The addition of "the space" between "through"and "under" makes it into a correct sentence in English.

  • Please comment and propose edits, I am neither a native English nor a native Afrikaans speaker. Like other commenters I too wonder if the sentence is indeed a saying and if so, what it means. I can not think of an equivalent saying in Dutch. – Draakhond Nov 11 '17 at 12:03
  • I like your answer. Instead of "the space" could it be said as follows: "The cat crawls through underneath the table" - would that still be valid English? – Kobus Myburgh Nov 11 '17 at 12:21
  • @KobusMyburgh no it wouldn't be. And the bolded suggestion here is unnatural English. – AmE speaker Nov 11 '17 at 12:39
  • @Clare, do you have any suggestions for improvement? Replace "space" with "room" for instance? Do you agree that "the cat crawls under the table" suggest it stays there? – Draakhond Nov 11 '17 at 12:48
  • I've edited my answer to include a more concise but natural possibility. And as for the cat crawls under the table, yes, we have no idea what happens after the cat disappears from view by crawling under the table. – AmE speaker Nov 11 '17 at 12:52
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Some of the suggestions so far (e.g., “The cat crawls across the table”) seem to say that the cat did some amount of crawling, (at least) some of which was under the table.*  If the “from one end of the table to the other” aspect is important, I suggest

The cat crawls the length of the table.


I somewhat like JiriS’s suggestion of “The cat traverses the table.” as it seems to me that “traverse” implies the end-to-end aspect (although a quick dictionary check did not support that understanding), but this phrase fails in that it does not specify the mode of locomotion: the cat could traverse the table by walking, sauntering, strolling, running, dashing, streaking, leaping, or even rolling — and I’m sure there are more possibilities.
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* Actually, very few really capture the “under the table” aspect — when I read “The cat crawls from one end of the table to the other”, I visualized the cat on the table.  I have no suggestion for dealing with that.

  • "the cat crawls the length of the floor beneath the table" – Tom22 Apr 10 at 1:45
  • @Tom22:  I disagree.  A table in a room typically does not fill the room; i.e., the table is not as long as the room.  The question says “The cat crawls from one end of the table to the other”, so the cat does not crawl the length of the floor. – Scott Apr 10 at 2:04
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The cat passes under the table crawling.

  • No. That's not natural and it doesn't cover the full meaning. – AmE speaker Nov 13 '17 at 2:00
  • Why downvote this suggestion and not the others? This one 1) does cover the the full meaning! 2) is shorter, which is the whole point, 3) is legit English, or am I mistaken? Maybe we'll just have to accept that the English lanquage;;;;;;;/ (oops, that was one of my cats typing) lacks the power of Dutch words like onderdoor, overheen, doorheen, voorbij, achterlangs etcetera. – Zaaikort Nov 13 '17 at 9:47
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Some options are

The cat crawls under the table and crawls all the way out the other side/end.

This is as "concise" as I can be while including the sense that the cat (1) is not under the table in the first place (2) all the action of the cat while under the table is crawling.

End is more specific to the cat crawling lengthwise under the table, whilst side is a common substitute for it.

The cat crawls under the table and doesn't stop crawling until it comes out the other side/end.

You need to be explicit and say the car went under the table by crawling as the version you have given us does not at all mean the cat moves under the table. It means he traveled the full distance of the table, but that could be on top or alongside of it.

Or you can say

The cat crawls underneath the table and crawls all the way under it until it crawls out from under the other end.

I don't think you can shorten it to

?? The cat crawls under the table and crawls out the other side/end.

A cat being a cat, I don't think this eliminates the possibilities that the cat did "roll, dart,....or even hoola-hoop from the one end to the other" while it was under the table.

  • Thank you - while accurate, it is not very concise. When I mentioned darting and hoola-hooping, I was using the word "passes", not "crawls" :-) – Kobus Myburgh Nov 11 '17 at 12:24
  • Yeah, I know it's not concise. English and Afrikaans are not the same language. I think you're asking the impossible here. The suggestion by @draakhond is (1) not unambiguous (2) not natural – AmE speaker Nov 11 '17 at 12:37
  • "The cat crawls under the table to come out the other side/end". Is that natural English? – Draakhond Nov 11 '17 at 13:09
  • Maybe, to be precise, it should be stated that the cat keeps crawling while under the table, but when I read "the cat crawls under the table..." I automatically picture the cat crawling all the way. – Draakhond Nov 11 '17 at 13:18
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The cat crawls through and underneath the table

I believe this is the correct way of saying it, although everyother phrase someone has said is also correct. This phrase explains where and what the cat is doing at the moment.

  • Hi Coleen. Welcome to the site. We have quite strict rules about what should go into an answer. You should take the tour and read the help center pages for more detailed information. Basically an answer should only contain information relevant to the question at hand and, in questions like this, explain your grammatical or semantic reasoning, for example by referring to a dictionary. – Matt E. Эллен Apr 10 at 8:06

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