Of Kitty Kats and Phrases

Cat's Out of the Bag Cartoon

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I love strange word choices. I pull a “Dr. Seuss” and make up my own words or blend two together when I can’t think of one that will suffice.

I’m fascinated by the slang trends unique to various parts of the country. For instance when I lived in Western New York I noticed that everybody abbreviated as much as possible. Example sentence:

“So obvi I totes finish that, but whatevs.” = “So obviously I totally finished that, but whatever.”

I love researching the origin of old and commonly used phrases. Fun fact! Happy as a calm originated from a frontier memoir in 1833. It is thought that the open clam gives the appearance of smiling therefore the phrase came into being.

I love that shit! I guess it comes with the English major territory.

But the phenomenon that I cannot understand is the use of the cat. Cat’s are everywhere in the English language and most stem from England. Here is a list of only a handful of phrases I have come across. For my own amusement, and hopefully yours, I wrote down some of the more interesting origins:

Cat’s got your tongue (100’s of years ago Mideast: It was common punishment for a liar to have their tongue ripped out. The severed tongue was given to the king’s pets as their daily food)

Cats cradle (Early Europe: it was believed that cats could increase the chances of fertility, so they secured a cat in a cradle and newlyweds rocked it back and forth to ensure pregnancy. The string game loosely looks like a cradle)

Quick as a cat

Cool cat

Sly cat

Cat’s out of the bag (Medieval England: Piglets were sold at the market. Sellers generally kept the pig in a bag so that it would be easier to carry home. Dishonest sellers would instead place a large cat in the bag. Had the buyer looked in the bag then the cat would literally be out of the bag)

The cat’s meow

Copy cat

It’s raining cats and dogs (Mythology – Odin: dogs symbolized wind and cats symbolized down-pouring rain.

Look what the cat dragged in

Scaredy-cat / Fraidy cat

When the cat’s away, the mice will play

To bell a cat

Like herding cats

Make the fur fly

See which was the cat jumps (Olden days: It was considered sport to place a cat in a tree as a target. They would wait to “see which way the cat jumps” before they pulled the trigger)

Now, how is that not interesting?




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