"Cat"-chy Expressions - Where did they come from?
"CAT"-CHY EXPRESSIONS - WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
Our language today is full of descriptive phrases that
refer to cats. We use them frequently without realizing
the rich and colorful history that lies behind them.
Here's a few of the most common ones you probably use
--"Cat got your tongue?": refers to asking why someone is so
quiet or why they are not talking.
This phrase originated hundreds of years ago in the Middle
East. When people were caught lying, their punishment was
to have their tongues ripped or cut out and fed to the king's
--"Like a cat on a hot tin roof": refers to someone who is
jumpy and nervous.
This phrase is the title of the Tennessee Williams' play.
The characters behave like cats would if they were
literally up on a hot tin roof of a house.
Going further back in time, there was an English expression,
"Nimble as a cat on a hot bake stone." A bake stone was a
large flat stone that was heated and used to bake bread.
If a cat were to walk on it when it was heated, he would
certainly be in a hurry to get away from it.
--"It's raining cats and dogs!": refers to a very hard
downpour of rain.
One explanation of this phrase goes back to the 1500's when
houses had thatched roofs made of thick straw piled up high
without wood support underneath. Since the roof was the
warmest spot in the house, the household's cats and dogs,
(along with mice, rats, and bugs,) would all nestle in the
roof. However, when it rained, the roof became very
slippery and the animals would slip and fall off to the
--"Catcalls": To boo at bad acting in the theater.
Back in the time of Shakespeare, people would demonstrate
their dislike for the stage actors' performances by making
noises that sounded like an alley full of howling cats.
--"Let the cat out of the bag": To disclose a secret.
In Medieval England, piglets were sold at the market in
bags for ease in transporting by the buyer. Dishonest sellers
often tried to trick buyers by putting a cat in the bag.
If a careful buyer inspected the bag and found the cat, then
he would literally "let the cat out of the bag," exposing the
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