Cats & Language

Cats & Language

How often do you use the word "cat" in your everyday conversations? You'd be amazed! Here are a few examples of phrases and expressions that have cropped up in the English language. Now you will learn the meanings, and in some cases, the background of these words/phrases.

be the cat's whiskers
the cat that bags the mouse will itself be bagged
the cat's cheers are the mouse's tears


. .



"Cat" in another language is still a cat!
If your language is not included here, please let me know what the word "cat" is in your language.





Portuguese for "tomcat"












Saudi Arabian








KHaTooL' (male) or KHa'TooLaH' (female)



Cat's cradle

Children play this game with a loop of string wound back and forth over the fingers of both hands to create a pattern. Once the first child has created a pattern, the loop is transferred to the hands of a second child, creating a new pattern. The loop is handed back and forth repeatedly, making a different pattern each time. The starting pattern is called the "cradle," and the simplest explanation for this is that the cradlelike form is just about the right size for a cat. But this interpretation leaves something to be desired. Why should a cat have been chosen to give the game its name? Why not some other small animal?

Other explanations:

The first relates to an Eastern European custom. It was believed that the cat could increase the chances of fertility in a young married couple. This was presumably based on the observation that cats rarely have difficulty producing offspring. The cat had a special role in a fertility ritual performed one month after a wedding had taken place. A cat was secured in a cradle, and this was then ceremonially carried into the newlyweds' house, where it was rocked back and forth in their presence. This, it was claimed, would ensure an early pregnancy for the young bride.

From this ceremony it is easy to see how the idea of a cat's cradle could have entered the folklore of children's games and then spread right across Europe and even to the New World, with the original significance soon forgotten.

Students of ancient Egypt have an entirely different explanation, however. They point out that similar string games are played by peoples as far apart as Congo tribesmen and the Eskimos, and that these games have a magical significance. The string patterns are formed, altered and re-formed in the belief that these actions will influence the path of the sun. In the frozen north it is just the opposite -- the Eskimos try to trap the sun in their strings to shorten its winter absence. The sun in these cases is envisaged as a "solar cat," to be symbolically ensnared in the twisting string patterns. If this seems farfetched, it should be remembered that in the civilization of early Egypt the great sun god Re (or Ra) was thought to take the form of a cat in his battle with the powers of darkness, symbolized by a giant serpent. At dawn each day, the valiant sun-cat cut off the head of the serpent, defeating the night and bringing the light of another day. This equation between the cat and the sun is thought by some to have spread across the globe from culture to culture and to provide the true origin of the magical game of cat's cradle.

(taken from the book "Catlore," by Desmond Morris.)



Despite its name, it is not the guts of a cat. It comes instead from the entrails of sheep. Their intestines are cleaned, soaked, scraped, and then steeped for some time in an alkaline liquid. After this they are drawn out, bleached, dyed, and twisted into cords. These cords have great strength and flexibility and have been used for centuries in the making of stringed musical instruments. In earlier days they were also employed as bowstrings for archers.

In this case, why should sheepgut be perversely referred to as catgut? the clue lies in the earliest use of the term. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, one author wrote of fiddlers "tickling the dryed gutts of a mewing cat." Later we heard of a man upset "at every twang of the cat-gut, as if he heard at the moment the wailings of the helpless animal that had been sacrificed to harmony." These references come from a period when domestic cats were often victims of persecution and torture, and the sound of squealing cats was not unfamiliar to human ears. In addition, there was the noise of the caterwauling at times when feral tomcats were arguing over females at heat. Together, these characteristic feline sounds provided the obvious basis for a comparison with the din created by inexpert musicians scraping at their stringed instruments. In the imaginations of the tormented listeners, the inappropriate sheepgut become transformed into the appropriate catgut -- a vivid fiction to replace a dull fact. The toughest and best catgut comes from the intestines of lean, poorly fed animals. "Roman strings," the best catgut strings for musical instruments, are made in Italy. Catgut is also used for hanging clock weights and for sutures in surgery.

(taken from the book "Catlore," by Desmond Morris.)



Pronunciation: 'kat-r-wol

Etymology: Middle English caterwawen

Date: 14th century

1 : to make a harsh cry

2 : to quarrel noisily


Clowder of cats

"Clowder" is the correct term for a group of cats. It is an old word for "clutter," an apt name for a gathering of cats that has, perhaps, overrun a farm in response to a plague of mice or rats.

A group of kittens or young cats had a special name: they were called a "kyndyll," or "kindle," of kittens. This is based on the old definition of the verb "to kindle," which described it as "bringing forth" or "giving birth to young." So a kyndyll of cats was simply a group of felines that had, not so long ago, been brought into the world.



Grinning like a cheshire cat

In Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland a large cat is lying on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear. Alice is told that it is grinning because it is a Cheshire cat. There is no explanation as to why cats from that particular English county should be prone to smiling. A clue may come with the final disappearance of the cat, when it slowly vanishes, starting with the end of its tail and ending with the broad grin. This grin, we are told, remains some time after the rest of the animal has gone. It is this disembodied feline grin that explains the source of Lewis Carroll's image. There used to be a special kind of cheshire cheese that had a grinning feline face marked on one end of it. The rest of the cat was omitted by the cheesemaker, giving the impression that all but the grin had vanished.

Lewis Carroll may well have seen these cheeses and given him the idea for including a Cheshire cat in Alice. But he may have taken his reference from an even earlier source. The reason why the Cheshire cheesemakers saw fit to add a grinning cat to their product was because the expression "to grin like a Cheshire cat" was already in use for another reason altogether. It was an abbreviation of the saying "to grin like a Cheshire Caterling," which was current about five centuries ago. Caterling was a lethal swordsman in the time of Richard II, a protector of the Royal Forests who was renowned for his evil grin, a grin that became even broader when he was dispatching a poacher or some other enemy with his trusty sword. Caterling soon became shortened to "Cat," and anyone adopting a particularly wicked, threatening smile was said to be grinning like a Cheshire cat. Lewis Carroll possibly knew of this phase, but because he referred to the grin outlasting the rest of the body, it is more likely that his real influence was the cheese rather than the swordsman.

Whichever is the case, the fact remains that the saying did not start with Carroll, as most people assume, but was in reality much older and was merely borrowed and made more famous by him.

(taken from the book "Catlore," by Desmond Morris.)



Raining cats and dogs

As to cats and dogs, we're going to rely a little on another writer, Christine Ammer, who has produced a marvelous book called, fortuitously, "It's Raining Cats and Dogs and Other Beastly Expressions" (Paragon, 1988). The first verified use of "raining cats and dogs" was in 1738 by Jonathan Swift (of "Gulliver's Travels" fame), though there were earlier versions of the phrase.

Why would cats and dogs be a metaphor for a heavy downpour? According to Ms. Ammer, it may have been because in Northern European myths the cat stood for rain and the dog for wind. Or perhaps the clamor of a full-tilt thunderstorm reminded someone of the sound of cats and dogs fighting.

Another explanation: This phase became popular several centuries ago at a time when the streets of towns and cities were narrow, filthy, and had poor drainage. Unusually heavy storms produced torrential flooding that drowned large numbers of the half-starved cats and dogs that foraged there. After a downpour was over, people would emerge from their houses to find the corpses of these unfortunate animals, and the more gullible among them believed that the bodies must have fallen from the sky -- and that it had literally been raining cats and dogs.

A description of the impact of a severe city storm, written by Jonathan Swift in 1710, supports this view: "Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow, and bear their trophies with them as they go . . . drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud, dead cats, and turnip-tops, come tumbling down the flood."

Some classicists prefer a more ancient explanation, suggesting that the phrase is derived from the Greek word for a waterfall: catadupa. If rain fell in torrents -- like a waterfall -- then the saying "raining catadupa," could gradually have been converted into "raining cats and dogs."



not enough room to swing a cat

There are two theories about "not enough room to swing a cat," neither of them very cheerful. One is that the phrase refers to the "cat o'nine tails," a nine-thonged whip used in the days of square-rigged ships to discipline unruly sailors. This "cat" got its name from the fact that the welts it left on a sailor's back looked like enormous cat scratches. Most such whippings took place on the open deck, both as an example to the rest of the crew and because in the cramped quarters below decks there was "not enough room to swing a cat."

The other, less cat-friendly theory is that the phrase refers to literally swinging a cat around by its tail. This version seems to have quite a bit more evidence in its favor, the phrase having come into use in the mid-17th century and being used with clear reference to actual cats ever since, including in Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield."


A cat has nine lives

The cat's resilience and toughness led to the idea that it had more than one life, but the reason for endowing it with nine lives, rather than any other number, has often puzzled people. The answer is simple enough. In ancient times nine was considered a particularly lucky number because it was a "trinity of trinities" and therefore ideally suited for the "lucky" cat.

Another explanation from 1546, says that cats were regarded as tenacious of life because of their careful, suspicious nature and because they are supple animals that can survive long falls, though not from the top of a skyscraper as some people believe.


Why do we speak of someone "having kittens"?

"She will have kittens if she finds out about this," means that someone will be terribly upset, to the point of hysteria. At first sight there is no obvious connection between distraught human behavior and giving birth to kittens. True, a panic-stricken or hysterical woman who happens to be pregnant might suffer a miscarriage as a result of the intense emotional distress, suddenly giving birth as a result of panic is not hard to understand. But why kittens? Why not puppies, or some other animal image?

In medieval times cats were thought of as the witch's familiars. If a pregnant woman was suffering agonizing pains, it was believed she was bewitched and that she had kittens clawing at her inside her womb. Because witches had control over cats, they could provide magical potions to destroy the litter, so that the wretched woman would not give birth to kittens. As late as the seventeenth century, an excuse for obtaining an abortion was given in court as removing "cats in the belly."

Since any woman believing herself to be bewitched and about to give birth to a litter of kittens would become hysterical with fear and disgust, it is easy to see how the phrase "having kittens" has come to stand for a state of angry panic.


Letting the cat out of the bag

The origin of this phrase, meaning "he gave away a secret," dates back to the eighteenth century when it referred to a market-day trick. Piglets were often taken to market in a small sack, or bag, to be sold. The trickster would put a cat in a bag and pretend that it was a pig. If the buyer insisted on seeing it, he would be told that it was too lively to risk opening up the bag, as the animal might escape. If the cat struggled so much that the trickster let the cat out of the bag, his secret was exposed. A popular name for the bag itself was a "poke," hence the other expression "never buy a pig in a poke."


You don't have a cat-in-hell chance

The complete phrase is: "No more chance than a cat in hell without claws." It was originally a reference to the hopelessness of being without adequate weapons.


To sit in the cat-bird seat

As the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang defines the term, "in the catbird seat" means "in a position of ease."

The catbird is a relative of the mockingbird found in the Southern U.S. and named for its distinctive "mewing" call. Like most birds, catbirds prefer to stay out of reach of potential predators, and thus a "catbird seat" is likely to be a safe, lofty perch above the fray. The phrase arose in the South in the 19th century, although its first recorded use in print didn't come until 1942.

"In the catbird seat" first caught the public's eye in a James Thurber short story called "The Catbird Seat." In the story, a meek accountant is driven to contemplate murdering a fellow employee who won't stop babbling trite catch phrases, including, you guessed it, "in the catbird seat." It seems that the babbler is a (then-Brooklyn) Dodgers fan who has picked up the phrase from the sportscaster Red Barber. In real life, Barber pleaded guilty to popularizing "in the catbird seat," and explained that he had picked it up from a man who trounced him in a poker game years before. "Inasmuch as I had paid for the phrase," said Barber, "I began to use it. I popularized it, and Mr. Thurber took it." And, of course, immortalized it.



cat's paw

It seems that although cats in mythology and folklore are generally portrayed as wily, clever, resourceful and sophisticated, the story behind "cat's paw" is an exception to the rule, and not one that any self-respecting cat would want on his resume. An ancient fable tells the story of a monkey who came upon some chestnuts roasting in a fire. Lacking the means to retrieve the tasty chestnuts from the fire, the clever monkey managed to convince a somewhat dim cat to reach into the flames with his paw and fetch them. The monkey got his chestnuts, the cat was rewarded with a nasty hotfoot, and a metaphor for "chump" was born. While the original "cat's paw" was someone who is tricked into doing something dangerous or foolish on behalf of someone else, the term has broadened somewhat over the years. Today's "cats paw" may know very well what he or she is doing.

Other definitions:

A cat's-paw is light air during a calm that moves as silently as a cat and causes ripples on the water, indicating a coming storm. The term is recorded as early as 1769. Captain Frederick Marryat wrote in Jacob Faithful (1834): "Cat's paws of wind, as they call them, flew across the water here and there, ruffling its smooth surface."




"Cattycorner" does not actually have anything to do with cats, although cats are notoriously

fond of sitting in corners and staring at the wall. The proper word, in fact, is "catercorner" or "catercornered." The "cater" is an Anglicization of the French "quatre," or "four," and "catercornered" originally just meant "four-cornered." To specify that something is "catercorner across" from something else is to stress the diagonal axis of an imaginary box, as opposed to saying "directly across" or just "across."

"Catercorner" first appeared around 1883 in the South, and originally meant "askew" or "out of line." The "diagonally across" meaning soon took over, however, as did the transition from "cater" to "catty." Linguists call this process "folk etymology" -- people replacing an unfamiliar element in a word or phrase ("cater") with a familiar one ("catty" or "kitty"). "Cattycorner" has remained purely an Americanism, so don't expect folks to understand the word if you use it on your next trip to London.


cat's meow

Date: 1926

Definition: a highly admired person or thing



cat and mouse

Surprisingly enough, suffragettes arrested in England in about 1913 inspired the first popular use of this expression. The suffragettes often went on hunger strikes when imprisoned, and the government retaliated by passing the "Prisoners' Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act," which said that prisoners could be set free while fasting but were liable for rearrest when they recovered from their fasts to serve the remainder of their sentences. Critics compared the government's action to a big cat cruelly playing with a little mouse and dubbed the legislation "The Cat and Mouse Act." From the act, which wasn't particularly successful came the popularization of "to play cat and mouse with," though the expression may have been used long before this.


Other Definitions

: behavior like that of a cat with a mouse

: the act of toying with or tormenting something before destroying it

: a contrived action involving constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes

: played a game of cat and mouse with the police



cat burglar

Date: 1907

Definition: a burglar who is adept at entering and leaving the burglarized place without attracting notice, taking on the similarity of a cat stealthily entering a room without their humans noticing, or suddenly disappearing when they don't want to do something.


cat scratch disease

Date: 1952

Definition: an illness characterized by swelling of the lymph glands, fever, and chills and assumed to be caused by a bacterium transmitted especially by a cat scratch -- called also cat scratch fever



fat cat

Date: 1928


: a wealthy contributor to a political campaign fund

: a wealthy and privileged person


A rich contributor to political campaign funds was coined by Baltimore Sun writer Frank R.Kent in his 1928 book Political Behavior. Today it also means any rich, secure person.




Pronunciation: 'sker-dE-"kat

Date: 1948

Definition: an unduly fearful person




1. Clear Air Turbulence

2. College Ability Test

3. Computerized Axial Tomography




Teddy Roosevelt seems to have either coined or popularized pussyfoot in about 1905. Meaning crafty, cunning, or moving in a cautious manner, it refers to the way cats can walk stealthily by drawing in their claws and walking on the pads of their feet. It's very unlikely that the redoubtable William Eugene "Pussy-foot" Johnson, a crusading American do-gooder, has anything to do with the expression. Johnson was nicknamed "Pussyfoot" because "of his catlike policies in pursuing lawbreakers" when he served as chief special officer in the Indian Territory. Later his nickname, in the form of pussyfooters, was applied to all advocates of Prohibition., While crusading in England, fresh from his triumph of securing the passing of Prohibition in the U.S., Johnson was blinded by a stone thrown by a crusading drunk.




Catboat remains a double etymological mystery.No one knows why the name cat was given in the late 17th century to "a large vessel formerly used in the English coal trade and capable of carrying some 600 tons." Neither is it known why this name was later transferred to the small single-masted pleasure sailboat known as a catboat today. Perhaps the two boats were named independently, the reason for the former's name anybody's guess, and the cat sailboat so named because it is small and moves quickly and quietly, like a cat.




Though this word, first recorded in 1659, is inspired by the nocturnal cry, or "waul," of the cat, catcalls are actually "human whistles expressing disapproval." A catcall was apparently first "a squeaking instrument, a kind of whistle used especially in British music halls to express impatience or disapprobation." It then came to mean a shrill shrieking whistle people made in imitation of the instrument and used for the same purposes. In America, however, such shrill whistles (though in this cast not called catcalls) can be expressions of approval of a performance.




A caterpillar is a "chatepelos," a "hairy cat," in French and it is from this word that we originally got our word for the "wyrm among fruite," as the English once called the creature. But the meaning and spelling of caterpillar were strengthened and changed by two old English words. "To Pill" meant "to strip or plunder," as in "pillage," which came to be associated with the little worm stripping the bark off trees, and a glutton was a "cater," which the creature most certainly is. Thus the caterpillar became a "greedy pillager" as well as a "hairy cat," both good descriptions of its mien and manner.



cat ice

Thin, dangerous ice that would not support the weight of a (light-footed) cat. Dating back to late 19th-century America, the phrase has the same figurative meaning as thin ice, as in "You're skating on cat ice taking a position like that."


cat in the meal

Something hidden or sinister. The expression comes from a story in the once-popular Webster's "Blue-Backed Speller" a century ago and is still used today.


cat on a hot tin roof

Best known today as the title of Tennessee William's famous play, the expression has been in wide use in America since the turn of the century. Like "a cat on a hot tin roof" derives from a similar British phrase, "like a cat on hot bricks," which was first recorded about 1880 and also means someone ill at ease, uncomfortable, not at home in a place or situation.



cats and dogs

The most valuable counters in poker are the blue chips. Since the early 1900s Wall Street, borrowing the expression from another world of gambling, has called secure, relatively high-yielding stocks "blue-chip stocks." Among the earliest terms for worthless or speculative stocks is "cats and dogs," first recorded in 1879.



The Cat's Waltz

This Chopin composition is so named because when Chopin was composing his Waltz No. 3 in F major, his cat scrambled across the keys of his piano and he tried to reproduce the same sounds in his piece.



cat the anchor

Catting the anchor simply means to keep the anchor clear of the ship by hanging it outside the vessel on a piece of timber called the cathead. The term dates back to at least the early 19th century.




kit and caboodle

The caboodle in this American expression meaning "the whole lot," is the same as the word boodle, for "a pile of money," deriving from the Dutch boedal, "Property," The whole kit, of course, means entire outfit. The phrase doesn't read "the whole kit and boodle" because Americans like alliteration in speech and added a "k" sound before boodle in the phrase. It has nothing to do with cats.



bell the cat

To bell the cat is to take on a dangerous mission at great personal risk for the benefit of others. Cats, of course, have long been belled to prevent them from killing songbirds. But the expression derives from a wise mouse. It is from an old fable retold in William "Long Will" Langland's alliterative poem "The Vision Concerning Piers Plowman," which was written, as far as is known, between 1360 and 1399. "Piers Plowman" tells of a family of mice who hold a meeting to decide what to do about a cat who has been preventing them from foraging for food. One cunning mouse suggests that a brass bell be hung around the cat's neck so that they could be warned of its approach. Everyone agrees that this ploy is perfect, except for one sage mouse, who steps forward and says, "Excellent idea, but who will bell the cat?"



dead cat bounce

An automatic recovery in a financial market. Supposedly unsaleable commodities often find a market after a sharp price fall as buyers look for bargains. The idea being that even a dead cat will bounce if you drop it from a great height.



dead cat on the line

Field workers for the Dictionary of American Regional English found 21 people who used this expression, meaning "there's something suspicious, something wrong" -- but not one of them could explain it. When William Safire asked readers of his nationally syndicated word column for help, an old man in Louisiana scrawled a letter explaining that the expression has its roots in fishing for catfish, when trotlines with many hooks on them are set in the water. The lines are checked every day, so if a fisherman checks a neighbor's line and there's a dead catfish (cat) on the line, he knows there's something wrong, something suspicious or fishy is going on.

Word Watch attributes the phrase "a dead catfish on a trotline" to usage by the U.S. foreign service going back to at least 1977 and meaning "to back down from a negotiating position."



sweeten the kitty

In the game of faro the "tiger" was the bank of the house, possibly because the tiger was once used on signs marking the entrance to Chinese gambling houses. Gamblers called the tiger a kitty, and it also became the name for the "pot" in poker and other card games. By the late 19th century sweeten or fatten the kitty had become a common expression for adding chips to the pot in a poker game or for increasing the payment in any business deal.



fight like Kilkenny cats

During the Irish rebellion or revolution of 1798, Hessian mercenaries stationed in Kilkenny amused themselves by tying two cats by their tails and throwing them over a clothesline to fight to the death. Just before an officer interrupted their banned "sport" unexpectedly one day, a quick-thinking trooper reportedly cut off the two tails and let the cats escape, telling the colonel that the soldiers had nothing to do with the fight -- the two cats had just devoured each other except for the tails. The above tale may have inspired the expression to fight like Kilkenny cats, to fight bitterly until the end. But another story has it that two Kilkenny cats fought so ferociously in a sandpit that they devoured each other except for their tails. And still another yarn has a thousand fabled Kilkenny cats fighting an all-night battle with a thousand cats selected by "sportsmen" from all over Ireland, the tough Kilkenny Jonathan Swift, who, more conservatively, prefers the explanation that cats in the phrase refers to men. It seems that in the 17th century residents of Englishtown and Irishtown in Kilkenny -- which was bisected by a stream -- were constantly fighting over boundary lines and were compared to battling cats. But nobody has offered convincing proof for any of these stories.


cat's fur to make kitten britches

"Cat's fur to make kitten britches" is a joking nonsense reply to the question "What for?" or "What's that for?" It's a pun on the words for and fur, which are often pronounced identically.


walk the cat back

To attempt to understand (the true nature of a situation and the reasons it happened) by reconstructing events chronologically from present time to the past. This expression first made its appearance in the New York Times Magazine in 1994, referring primarily to the counterintelligence officers of the CIA when they were investigating spy activity within the CIA.



a cat can look at a king

No one is so important that an ordinary person cannot look at him or her. Everyone can be curious about important people.



do it in a cat's paw

Do something in a way that no one knows it is you doing it.



Some one who mimics someone else.


a cat in gloves catches no mice

Sometimes you cannot get what you want by being careful and polite.



all cats are gray in the dark

In the dark, appearances are meaningless.




nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs

restless; unable to relax; as a cat cannot jump up onto a rocking chair without feeling unbalanced because of the rocking motion


restless; unable to relax; because if cat curls up to sleep under rocking chair its tail might be subject to crushing by rocker




A narrow, often elevated walkway, as on the sides of a bridge or in the flies above a theater stage. More recently, it has been adopted by the fashion world to designate the runway where models strut their stuff.



1.a. A chiefly nocturnal European carnivorous mammal (Mustela putorius) of the weasel family that ejects a malodorous fluid to mark its territory and ward off enemies. Also called fitch.

b. Any of various related mammals of Asia, especially Mustela eversmanni of central Asia.

2. See skunk.




A short nap; a light sleep.

To take a short nap; doze lightly




1. A hairy, aromatic perennial herb (Nepeta cataria) in the mint family, native to Eurasia and containing an aromatic oil to which cats are strongly attracted.

2. Any of various other mostly aromatic plants in the genus Nepeta, cultivated for their ornamental foliage and clusters of blue, lavender, or white flowers.


see which way the cat jumps

Cats are not particularly predictable. They may do something totally unexpected. This phrase means to imply that we have to wait until things progress to see which way they go, one way or another.



A person who is extremely fearful of cats, or who has an intense dislike of them.



Opposite of ailurophobe: a person who loves cats, or whose life revolves around them.


skinning the cat

This refers to skinning cat fish. It is a very time-consuming and messy job. The expression "There's more than one way to skin a cat" comes from this also, because everyone has their own way ofskinning catfish, and are more than willingn to teach it to you. {Thanks to papa9801}


cat got your tongue?

I believe that I can shed some light on one of your cat related mystery sayings: "Cat got your tongue" refers to the rare neurological condition, "cataplexy" coming from the Greek word, "katta" to fall down. Although many persons with this disorder do, indeed, fall down, given sufficient emotional stimuli -- lauhter, excitement, grief, fear, anger, (laughter is the most common trigger) -- some persons with cataplexy (many of whom are also narcoleptics) actually are rendered incapable of speech. For persons afflicted with this form of cataplexy, the "cat" has indeed got their tongue!


like fog on little cat feet (thanks to Richard Comella)

This saying is from a Carl Sandburg poem:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

"Fog" Chicago Poems 1916
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

be like a cat on a hot tin roof
to be nervous and unable to keep still What's the matter with her? She's like a cat on a hot tin roof this morning.


Curiosity killed the cat.
Prov. Being curious can get you into trouble. (Often used to warn someone against prying into other's affairs.)



look like something the cat brought/dragged in (informal)
if someone looks like something the cat brought in, they are very untidy and dirty You can't possibly go to school like that - you look like something the cat dragged in!


There's more than one way to skin a cat.
Prov. You can always find more than one way to do something. Jill: How will we fix the sink without a wrench? Jane: There's more than one way to skin a cat. Our first approach didn't work, but we'll figure out some other way.


like the cat that got the cream (British & Australian) also like the cat that ate the canary (American)
if someone looks like the cat that got the cream, they annoy other people by looking very pleased with themselves because of something good that they have done Of course Mark got a glowing report so he was sitting there grinning like the cat that got the cream.


When the cat's away, the mice will play.
Prov. When no one in authority is present, the subordinates can do as they please. When the teacher left for a few minutes, the children nearly wrecked the classroom. When the cat's away, the mice will play.


put/set the cat among the pigeons (British & Australian)
to do or say something that causes trouble and makes a lot of people angry or worried Tell them all they've got to work on Saturday. That should set the cat among the pigeons.


look like the cat that swallowed the canary
Fig. to appear as if one had just had a great success. After the meeting John looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. I knew he must have been a success. Your presentation must have gone well. You look like the cat that swallowed the canary.


conceited as a barber's cat
Rur. very conceited; vain. (*Also: as ~.) Ever since he won that award, he's been as conceited as a barber's cat.


be the cat's whiskers (British & Australian)
to be better than everyone else I thought I was the cat's whiskers in my new dress.

Cat's Pyjamas

A slang phrase coined by Thomas A. Dorgan. The phrase became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s,[1] along with the bee's knees, the cat's whiskers (possibly from the use of these in radio crystal sets). In the 1920s the word cat was used as a term to describe the unconventional flappers from the jazz era. This was combined with the word pyjamas (a relatively new fashion in the 1920s) to form a phrase used to describe something that is the best at what it does, thus making it highly sought and desirable.'s_pyjamas