Origins of 6 Common Cat Sayings
Variations of common cat sayings have existed in some form of English for hundreds of years, but how, exactly, and when, did these phrases make their way into modern, everyday vernacular?
Cats were domesticated thousands of years ago, and their coexistence has ranged from
Kitties of all sizes and temperaments have eased their way into daily life, thus working their way into our conversations, too! Here are six common cat sayings.
1. Cat Got Your Tongue?
Perhaps the most popular cat saying, this should not be taken literally! It refers to someone who isn't talking, particularly if they don't respond to a question. This idiom possibly dates to ancient Egypt, where punishment for a crime meant your tongue would be cut out and fed to a cat, and the Middle
2. Curiosity Killed the Cat
It's common knowledge that kitties are curious creatures. This instinctive but somewhat hazardous behavior can get the best of them if they aren't careful, and therein lies the root of this cat saying. Don't ask too many questions, or you'll regret what you discover. Renaissance playwrights, including Shakespeare, used this phrase at the end of the sixteenth century, albeit in the form of "care killed the cat," as it also appears in Brewer's 1898 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, according to Bartleby.
3. While the Cat's Away, the Mice Will Play
In other words, when the boss is gone, it's party time! Historically, cats, who still retain their strong hunting instinct to this day, keep mice out of home and hearth. Dictionary.com reports that this phrase originated around 1600, although cats were used as mousers a few hundred years earlier.
4. Like the Cat that Ate the Canary
If you've ever had the satisfaction of completing a challenging task or winning a terrific prize, then chances are you've had this look on your face! Cats are stealth hunters, as noted above, and "getting the canary" is the feline equivalent to getting a big raise or award. Conversely, this phrase also can mean you're guilty of acquiring something that isn't yours. "The cat that got the cream," one of several common cat sayings in England, essentially means the same thing.
5. Let the Cat Out of the Bag
Another popular cat phrase, this refers to revealing a secret without intending to — whoops. Because kitties
6. Fraidy- or Scaredy-Cat
Pet parents know cats can be skittish, a trait that establishes the foundation for this idiom used to describe someone who's timid or frightened, used more frequently during childhood than adulthood. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that by 1871, this term was used as American English slang to denote a coward.
Cats have obviously played a large role in the world's history, and thus found their way into a number of common idioms throughout history, so much so that you probably never even thought about what you were saying or where it originated. But now, the next time you hear someone using one of these phrases, you can wow them with the breadth of your knowledge of common cat sayings history. They might even think you're the cat's pajamas!
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to