Ben has held a life-long interest in language and has a particular interest in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.
Fifty Cat Related Idioms and Phrases
We use idioms every day, often without even realizing it. They create an evocative image that helps us describe a situation we are discussing. Yet, as with all idiomatic expressions, you can't necessarily understand the phrase purely from the words used. This article focuses on fifty cat related idioms. I hope that you will find them interesting as well as fun.
Feline Idioms 1 to 5
1. A Cat Nap
Meaning: to sleep or doze for a short time.
2. A Cat Burglar
Definition: refers to a burglar who uses stealth and agility to break into buildings. The first recorded use of this idiomatic expression was between 1905 - 1910.
3. A Cat in Gloves Catches no Mice
Meaning: If you are too polite or careful, you might not achieve what you want.
4. A Cat May Look at a King
Sense: that a person of low social standing still has rights. That minimal human rights apply.
5. All Cats are Grey at Night
A way of saying that in the dark, physical attributes are unimportant. Believed to have been first used by Benjamin Franklin.
Cat Idioms 6 to 10
There are so many idioms that reference cats, probably more than any other animal. Perhaps it is because a cat can portray many facets of its character.
6. A Copy Cat
This idiom references a person who copies or imitates the actions of another.
Read More From Owlcation
7. A Scaredy-cat
Said about someone who is very scared or easily frightened.
8. As Conceited as a Barbers Cat
Meaning: someone who has a high opinion of themselves or their importance.
9. As Nervous as a Cat in a Room Full of Rocking Chairs
Meaning: that a person is very nervous or jumpy. Believed to refer to the idea that cats are worried about having their tails trapped under a rocking chair.
10. Busier Than a One-eyed Cat Watching Two Mouse Holes
Meaning: that a person is extremely busy – almost frantic.
More Cat Idioms 11 to 15
11. Busier Than a Three-legged Cat in a Dry Sandbox
Meaning: hectic to the point of being frantic
12. Cool Cat
A phrase used to describe a fashionable person. Also, when talking about someone who is very calm or slow to anger.
13. Cat's Cradle
This expression refers to something overly complicated. Likened to the children's game "cat's cradle." A game played with a string wound around the fingers to create intricate patterns.
14. Cat's Meow
Something outstanding or excellent.
15. Curiosity Killed The Cat
Meaning: that you should take care to look into something too profoundly. You might find something that disturbs you. You should not be curious; you may find something you don't want to know.
Cat Expressions Numbers 16 to 20
16. Dead Cat Bounce
A phrase often used in the financial markets. This statement refers to an automatic recovery of the financial market.
17. Dog My Cats
An expression of astonishment.
18. Enough to Make a Cat Laugh
Meaning: that something is very, very funny.
19. Fat Cat
A derogatory term - describes a person who has acted dishonorably to achieve wealth.
20. Fight Like Cats and Dogs
To be continually fighting or arguing with someone.
Feline Idioms and Phrases 21 to 25
21. Grin Like a Cheshire Cat
To smile broadly, in a very self-satisfied way.
22. Has the Cat Got Your Tongue?
A phrase used when referring to someone who has very little to say for themselves. The origins of this idiomatic saying remain unclear. It possibly originated from stories of witches whose cats would steal the tongue of their victims to prevent them from telling others.
A fiery, ill-tempered person.
24. High as the Hair on a Cat's Back
Meaning: to describe something very expensive or valuable.
25. Keep No More Cats Than Will Catch Mice
Meaning: a way of saying that you should be efficient.
Idiomatic Expressions Involving Cats 26 to 30
26. Let the Cat out of the Bag
Meaning: To suggest that you have said something you didn't intend to say. That a person has inadvertently revealed a secret.
27. Like a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
This expression indicates that a person is agitated or highly nervous, and fidgety.
28. Like Herding Cats
Refers to someone trying to manage multiple tasks at the same time. Often used to describe a person attempting to manage a large team of individuals, all of which are uncooperative.
29. Look Like the Cat That got the Cream
That you, or another person, are very pleased with yourself and what you have accomplished.
30. Look Like the Cat That Swallowed the Canary
Meaning: to be extraordinarily self-satisfied or smug. Often used to describe someone who is concealing some mischievous act.
Cat Idioms 31 to 35
31. Look What the Cat Dragged in
A phrase often used in a slightly derogatory or playful way. Can state that a person is a little shabby or not properly dressed for the occasion.
32. Morals of an Alley Cat
References the actions of a stray cat that hangs around streets and alleyways of a town or city and refers to a person of loose morals.
33. Not have a cat in Hell's Chance
Meaning: to have absolutely no prospect of doing something. To have no chance at all.
34. No Room to Swing a Cat
Meaning: a tight or confined space.
35. Play Cat and Mouse
Meaning: to toy with or amuse oneself with something.
Cat Idioms and Puns 36 - 40
36. Pussyfooting Around
Suggestive of someone avoiding a decision or avoiding saying what they mean.
37. The Cat's Pajamas
Refers to a person who is the best at what they do.
38. There is More Than One Way to Skin a Cat
Meaning: that there are many alternative ways of achieving something.
39. To Bell a Cat
This expression refers to an impossible task. Believed to originate from the fable of a mouse who has the idea of hanging a bell around a cat's neck to warn them of its approach.
40. To Have Kittens
Meaning: to be very upset or worried about something. A dramatic way of describing how frightened or upset you have been.
Feline Idioms 41 to 45
41. To Make a Cat Laugh
To say that something is ironic or very funny.
42. To Put a Cat Among the Pigeons
Meaning: a way of saying that someone has created an upset or a disturbance.
43. To Rain Cats and Dogs
This idiom refers to the fact that it is raining very heavily. A saying whose origins have been lost over the ages.
44. To Turn the Cat in the Pan
Meaning: to reverse to an outcome or situation. Also used to refer to someone who has turned traitor.
45. She's The Cat's Mother
An expression often used to rebuke someone. Most often used when a mother is called "she" in a conversation. Sometimes seen as being a disrespectful way of being addressed, giving rise to a response of "whose SHE, the cat's mother."
Yet More Cat Idioms 46 to 50
46. See Which Way the Cat Jumps
A way of saying that you should wait until you see how things develop or progress before committing yourself to a course of action.
47. Walk Like a Cat on Eggs
Meaning: taking great care and consideration in an activity.
48. Wanton Kittens Make Sober Cats
Refers to people who in their younger days may act wildly or without restraint, often learn to their cost that this behavior is inappropriate in later life.
49. Weak as a Kitten
A way of describing someone as fragile or feeble.
50. While the Cats Away, the Mice Will Play
Meaning: that people left unsupervised will do/act as they please. That they will take advantage of the situation.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have heard someone comparing a situation to something like a cat being sick on the carpet, what does this mean?
Answer: It is common, as any cat owner will confirm, for cats to be sick or produce hairballs. In the home, these incidents often occur on the carpet. This can be very messy and will require cleaning. I believe the expression you have heard is a way of saying that something is unpleasant and messy.
Question: What does “as calm as a cat” mean?
Answer: This is a simile, which is a type of idiom. Similes are used to enable us to compare things that are alike. It has the meaning of being very calm.
Question: What does the phrase "singed cat" mean?
Answer: This expression is is used to say that something or someone is better or smarter than they first appear or look. In other words, a person is perhaps not doing themselves any favours by their appearance. This phrase can also be used in the context of describing a person who may choose to appear worse than they actually are. An example of this being from the book "Letters from the South" published in the in 1817 by James Kirk Paulding: "He is like a singed cat, and very often takes as much pains to appear worse than he is, as some people among us do to appear better."
Question: What is meant by the expression: "live as a cat"?
Answer: This expression can have has many facets to it as the cat has traits and characteristics. Generally, the expression is used to describe a situation where you are in charge of your own destiny, free to roam, perhaps be somewhat pampered, but probably more importantly, to be a free spirit.
Question: What does the expression, "Which way grey-eyed cat would jump mean"?
Answer: An interesting expression. I have never heard this phrase expressed in quite this way. I am familiar with the expression "to see which way the cat jumps" which means to wait and see what happens or transpires. I suspect that your expression is a variation on this theme.
Question: What does the phrase "the cat is crying" mean?
Answer: I have heard this expression being used to describe a situation where a crying cat is believed to be an omen of something evil or unnatural.
Question: What does "cat said how to sleep” mean?
Answer: I have rarely come across this particular expression. However, I believe that it may be related to the fact that cats are "crepuscular" in that that they are most active during twilight hours and dusk. They therefore spend a great deal of their time cat- napping when they are in a state of light sleep. Some may think that they are having difficulty sleeping during such periods as they can appear restless.
Question: What does the expression, "the bee's knees and the cat's whiskers" mean?
Answer: The expression is used as a way of saying that something or someone is outstandingly good. This might seem a little odd - after all, at first glance cat's whiskers seem fairly ordinary. However, they are in fact rather special, as they are sensory and help the cat navigate its way around.
Interestingly, the expression Bee's knees, when first used back in the 18th century, was used to refer to something very small or insignificant. It's meaning changed to that used today sometime around the early 20th century. This is another example of how language is always evolving.
Question: Are there any cat related proverbs that are used to say someone is bad tempered?
Answer: There are a number of such proverbs and sayings. A good example being "like a bag of cats."
Question: What does the expression, like a hairless cat mean?
Answer: An interesting question. There aren't any specific idioms or phrases that I am aware of that explain this definitively. I suspect that this expression is one that being newly developed and may well become embedded in our language alongside other idioms and phrases over time. Currently, I believe that the expression is used in relation to the unique look of a hairless cat and is a way of saying that something or someone has an unusual look, probably not conforming to the normal accepted standards or rules.
Question: What does the phrase: "might as well ask the cat" mean?
Answer: This is a way of saying that you are wasting your time if you want a person to respond in a meaningful way to your question. It expresses frustration and some sarcasm in addressing their inability to carry out a task. For example: "I asked Simon to tidy his room again, but I have might as well of asked the cat, I might have had more chance of it being tidied."
Question: I have heard the expression: "That cat has a long tail". What is this referring too?
Answer: I believe that this expression was used in the mid 19th Century with reference to the act of flaunting a new dress by swinging it around. I have also heard this phrase used to describe a person who is somewhat vain, or boasting in nature, often putting on airs and graces in an attempt to be considered of a finer status than they really are.
Question: What does the expression, "the cat is drinking milk again" mean?
Answer: As cats get older, many become increasingly lactose intolerant. Which means that if these cats drink milk it can result in vomiting. In severe cases, cats will become dehydrated and quite ill. I believe the expression is used as a warning of problems ahead.
Question: What does "don't let the cat out of the bag" mean?
Answer: This idiom means that a person should keep a secret. The expression is the opposite of "let the cat out of the bag" which is to reveal a secret or surprise by mistake.
Question: What does "Starving like a cat in an empty house" mean?
Answer: That's not an expression that I have heard. However, I believe this has a literal meaning in that a cat in an empty house would have no access to food, without which it would eventually become very hungry and starve.
Question: My dad used to say "thanks will starve a cat." Have you heard the phrase?
Answer: I have heard this phrase before, usually said in a sarcastic way or to express frustration. It is a way to say that a thank you is all well and good, but it will not by itself provide what you want or need.
Question: What does the phrase "I have never seen a cats tail do that" mean?
Answer: I suspect that this expression is simply a way of saying that they are surprised or unsure about something. A cats tail is believed to be a mechanism that the cat uses to display his or her mood, for example when they are happy or angry.
Question: What does the phrase “Don’t boil the family cat” mean?
Answer: This is not a phrase that I am familiar with. I suspect that it is a derivation of the expression "cook a cat." This is a way of saying that you are fed up or annoyed with yourself. An example would be when a person says to themselves "Oh, cook a cat!"
Question: What is the meaning of "When the cat is away the mice will play"?
Answer: This expression has the meaning: That people left without supervision will do or act as they please. They are likely to take advantage of the situation.
Question: What does - Its your cat and now you'll have to wool it mean?
Answer: An interesting and unusual expression. We all know that a cat believes that it is in charge and rules the roost. The term woolgathering is sometimes used to describe someone who engages in idol fancies. I believe that your expression means that you own a cat (or issue) and that you will now have to indulge it repercussions or demands.
Question: Is this correct: “Who’s she, the cat's mother?"
Answer: This is correct. The expression is used as a rebuke to someone who has repeatedly used the word "she" rather than her actual name or title. This would be considered an impolite way of addressing a person and can often result in the above rebuke be uttered in response.
Question: "I'll die single with 42 cats". What does it mean?
Answer: I have heard this phrase used to describe someone who is destined to be lonely in their old age. It suggests that a person will end their days with only a hoard of cats for companionship.
Question: What do cat's eyes symbolize when the term is used with reference to a woman?
Answer: The term "cats eyes", is often made with reference to precious gems that have a changing lustre. In this regard, the expression would have a complimentary meaning.
Question: What is meant by the term "cat ice"?
Answer: This is an expression that I have heard before, although quite rarely. It is similar to the phase "to skate on thin ice". It means to beware of thin or dangerous ice. Presumably referencing the fact that the ice is so thin that it would not even support the weight of a cat.
Question: What is the meaning of the phrase: Sport to the cat is death to the mouse?
Answer: Originally a German proverb. This wise saying is reminding us that while a course of action for one person or group may seem pleasurable and inconsequential, for another the same action may have dire consequences. You should consider the outcomes from your actions carefully.
Question: What does the idiom: "to catch a cat in the dark" mean?
Answer: I have heard this phrase being used to describe a difficult task. Cats are natural hunters at night, using stealth and the dark to stalk their prey. It would take a great deal of skill to catch a cat in such circumstances.
Question: What does the phrase "crazy cat" mean? Can we call a funny friend a crazy cat?
Answer: To call someone a "crazy cat" can mean that you find them or their behaviour outrageous and unconventional. It is certainly something that you could say to funny friend - just make certain that they have a good sense of humour before you do.
Question: What does the idiom "as jumpy as a cat" mean?
Answer: There are many references to cats being "jumpy". These include "to see which way the cat jumps" and "scaredy cat." They all relate in some way to the nervous or "jumpy" nature a cat displays when it is stressed or anxious. Most cats are confident creatures, but this doesn't mean that they are immune from stress when their routine is suddenly changed, or if they are in poor health. We have all seen the exaggerated jumpy movements a cat is capable of when pouncing on something or when it is taken by surprise, and it is this behaviour that gives rise to these particular idioms and phrases.
Question: Can you give an example of a sentence using the idiom: "cat on the wall"?
Answer: To refer to someone or a situation as being like a cat on the wall, is to suggest that a person is refusing to take sides. An example sentence being: "I have repeatedly asked John to decide on when we should finally get that garage roof repaired, but he simply won't make a decision, he is like a cat on the wall."
Question: I have heard someone say "as agile as a cat." Is this an idiom?
Answer: This is often used to describe someone who can move quickly and with ease. It is a simile, rather than being an idiom. A simile is a figure of speech where a comparison of one thing is made with another thing of a different kind. Staying with the cat theme, another example of this being: "as brave as a lion."
Question: What is the meaning of the saying: of cats?
Answer: This expression can be interpreted in a number of ways. When saying that a person is "of the cat", they are comparing them to the characteristics of the cat. Depending on what they are inferring this can be either positive or negative. For example, some think of cats as being cool, smart, handsome etc. But others may use the term in a derogatory way to describe someone of shady character or repute.
Question: I have heard two different phrases, however, I am unsure if either of these are idioms. Are you able to confirm which is correct? The sayings are: 1) the bats knee. 2) the cats meow.
Answer: The expression: "the cats meow" is an idiom. It means that someone, or something is highly impressive or enjoyable. I have never heard of the expression "the bats knee". I wonder if this is being confused with the idiom "the bees knees", which has the meaning of something being excellent or impressive.
Question: What does it mean when saying: "get the cat doctored"?
Answer: This means to have the cat neutered. This is to prevent the cat from having kittens. The procedure is usually performed on kittens at around 4 months of age. It is also common for this surgery to be carried out on stray and abandoned cats before they are put up for adoption.
Question: What does it mean if someone calls a person "catty"?
Answer: This has the meaning that a person is being spiteful, or deliberately hurtful in their words or actions. It is suggesting that they are being cat like in their behaviour.
Question: "Don't whip the cat" is an expression used in my family to mean don't waste your time on useless regrets. Do you know this usage?
Answer: I have heard this phrase before, albeit rarely. Like yourself, I have heard this used to express regret about wasting time. I have also heard this said to imply that a person is shirking their responsibilities. "Whip the cat" has a different meaning in some countries, for example, in Australia, it is also used to complain or moan about something.
JC Scull on January 03, 2020:
gnocchi on December 08, 2019:
The cat photos are a nice touch. Very cute. (Find grumpy cat. Hint: alley cat.) :)
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on January 14, 2019:
I've never heard that particular song. I have heard this expression used to conjure up an image of a cat furiously digging away at the surface of the ice for a prolonged period of time in an act of futile perseverance.
D Thomas on January 09, 2019:
One I heard at the end of a song: As graceful as a 3 legged cat burying a turd on a frozen lake.
bsbuy on October 05, 2018:
oof the cat
Rajesh Mudi on August 30, 2018:
To see the cat
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on June 20, 2018:
Thank you for your comment. Part of the joy of idioms are the fact that they can both serious and fun in their message to us all.
Oluchi ogbonna. on June 19, 2018:
I love this idiomatic expression
Parth on June 18, 2018:
It 8s fun
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on June 13, 2018:
A very apt observation and comment on people's relationship with cats. Thank you for your comment Patricia.
Patricia on June 12, 2018:
And what about ...
"we are cat-sitting for a week. Then some friends arrive"
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 30, 2018:
Thanks Jerry, I hope my list helps sum some small way. Good luck with your book.
jerry on March 29, 2018:
thanks Ben, this is the 3rd time I have looked through your list while writing a book on art history.
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on November 26, 2017:
Thank you. It seems that cats have a greater impact on people and our language than we might first imagine.
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on November 19, 2017:
Thank you Kari. I was suprised at the number of these idioms too.
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 18, 2017:
That's wonderful, Ben! I never realized just how many idioms about cats there are. :O
Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on November 17, 2017:
Thank you. I think that there is such much fun to be had from language and the way we speak.
mactavers on November 17, 2017:
Loved the photos and sayings. Fun Hub!