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Home > Cats > 10 Cat Idioms and Sayings (With Origins and Meanings)

10 Cat Idioms and Sayings (With Origins and Meanings)

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Cats have fascinated humans for centuries, and it’s no surprise that they have found their way into our language in the form of idioms and sayings. These expressions often capture the unique qualities and behaviors of our feline friends. So, let’s take a look at 10 cat idioms and sayings, along with their origins and meanings.


The 10 Cat Idioms and Sayings

1. Let the Cat Out of the Bag

  • Meaning: To reveal a secret, often accidentally
  • Origin: This idiom likely comes from a time when merchants would sell piglets in bags at markets. Dishonest sellers might replace the piglet with a cat, which was less valuable. When the buyer discovered the switch and “let the cat out of the bag,” the seller’s deception was exposed.
cat in a carrier bag ready to board an airplane
Image By: MarinaTr, Shutterstock

2. Curiosity Killed the Cat

  • Meaning: Being too curious or inquisitive can lead to trouble
  • Origin: The original form of this saying was “care killed the cat.” Here, “care” refers to worrying about something or sorrow. Over time, the phrase evolved to its current form, highlighting the notion that cats are naturally curious animals and that their curiosity can sometimes get them into dangerous situations.

3. The Cat’s Pajamas

  • Meaning: Something that is excellent or outstanding
  • Origin: This phrase originated in the 1920s, during a time when American slang was characterized using animal-related expressions, such as “the bee’s knees” and “the cat’s meow.”

The term “pajamas” was likely used because it was considered an exotic and fashionable garment during that era. Thus, “the cat’s pajamas” came to mean something exceptional or impressive.

cat in heat bends in an arm chair
Image By: iwciagr, Shutterstock

4. There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

  • Meaning: There are multiple ways to achieve the same goal
  • Origin: Although the exact origin of this saying is uncertain, it is thought to come from the 19th century. Some suggest it is related to the process of removing a catfish’s skin, which can be done in several ways. Others believe it was simply a metaphor for accomplishing a difficult task.

5. Cat Got Your Tongue?

  • Meaning: Asked when someone is unusually quiet or hesitant to speak
  • Origin: There are several theories about the origin of this saying. One possibility is that it comes from the ancient Egyptian practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats.

Another theory is that it’s related to the cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip used for punishment that would leave victims speechless with pain.

british short hair cat licking its nose
Image By: Denis Val, Shutterstock

6. Like Herding Cats

  • Meaning: Describing a task that is difficult or nearly impossible to manage, usually because the people or objects involved are unruly or uncooperative
  • Origin: This idiom is thought to have originated in the United States in the 20th century as a humorous comparison between the independent nature of cats and the more easily controlled behavior of livestock such as sheep or cattle.

7. A Cat Has Nine Lives

  • Meaning: Cats seem to survive dangerous situations or have an uncanny ability to escape harm
  • Origin: This saying has been around since at least the 16th century and can be traced back to ancient Egyptian and Greek beliefs that cats were sacred and had protective qualities.

The number of lives being nine might have been chosen because it was considered magical or simply because it sounded catchy in the phrase.

young cute munchkin cat sitting on the table
Image By: This road is mine, Shutterstock

8. Scaredy-Cat

  • Meaning: A person who is easily frightened or overly cautious
  • Origin: This term, which combines the word “scared” with “cat,” likely originated in the early 20th century. It plays on the stereotype that cats are timid and easily startled, especially when compared to more courageous animals like dogs.

9. Look What the Cat Dragged In

  • Meaning: Used to describe someone or something that appears disheveled or unwanted
  • Origin: This expression comes from the tendency of cats to bring home dead or injured prey, such as birds or rodents. The saying is often used to describe someone who arrives looking disheveled, as though they have been dragged in by a cat.
Bicolor ticked Maine Coon cat
Image By: Burhan Oral GUDU, Shutterstock

10. When the Cat’s Away, the Mice Will Play

  • Meaning: People are more likely to misbehave or break the rules when a figure of authority is absent
  • Origin: This saying is believed to have originated in the early 14th century in Latin. But like most foreign words and phrases, it eventually made its way into English, with the meaning remaining consistent: when a person in charge is absent, those under their supervision are more likely to take advantage of the situation.



These 10 cat idioms and sayings offer a glimpse into the many ways that felines have influenced our language and culture. These expressions often embody the unique traits and behaviors of cats, from their curiosity to their independence.

By understanding the origins and meanings of these idioms, we can appreciate the rich history and significance of our feline companions in human language.

Featured Image Credit: islam zarat, Shutterstock

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