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Cat idioms and phrases exist in abundance in English and other languages

Cat idioms and expressions

Horses and pigs were only stepping stones on the way to my very favourite animal, and one which languages across the globe have turned to for idiomatic favour: the humble (or not so humble) cat. Let’s have a look at some of these idioms, pleasant and unpleasant:

Curiosity killed the cat

As the conclusion on a coroner’s report, this might be less than convincing – curiosity would have had to wipe out all nine lives of a cat, for starters – but idiomatically, it is of more use. The expression is a warning that being too inquisitive is likely to get you into trouble. It should also be heeded by any cats wandering around Mars.

No room to swing a cat

When I’m organizing my living arrangements, my primary concerns run along the lines of “Are there enough cupboards in the kitchen?” or “Is there room for fourteen bookcases?” Swinging cats seems to be me a singularly profitless use of time, but (it turns out) this expression – which simply denotes a confined space – refers to cat in the sense of cat-o’-nine-tails – that is, a whip once commonly used by sailors.

Has the cat got your tongue?

This idiomatic question – posed to someone remaining silent when they should be speaking – is one of those which, if you think about it, is rather more unpleasant than you might imagine. Also in this category: ‘touched a raw nerve’ and ‘keep your eyes peeled’. Sorry for making you wince.

Like a cat on a hot tin roof

A wonderfully evocative image, this simile is used to express agitation or anxiety. In British-English, a variant is like a cat on hot bricks. It also, of course, gave rise to the Pulitzer-prizewinning Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955).

[Put the] cat among the pigeons

As well as being the title of an Agatha Christie novel, this British-English idiom is used to describe saying or doing something controversial – indeed, something (to continue the ornithological trope) that is likely to ruffle feathers. Having spent time in pigeon-filled parks, I don’t fancy the chances of the average moggy against a flock of pigeons. Most of the felines of my acquaintance would far rather have a gentle nap than rage against the flying of the birds.

Check out cat phrases in other languages, including in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.

 

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