13 Cat Idioms And Phrases You Need to Know for Purr-fect English

Cat Idioms And Phrases

Cats have played a significant role in our lives for thousands of years, and their influence is reflected in the English language through idioms and phrases. In this article, we explore 10 popular cat-related idioms and phrases and their meanings.

From “curiosity killed the cat” to “you’re such a scaredy cat,” we will dive into the usage of each phrase, and provide examples to help you understand them in context. Whether you are a cat lover or not, these expressions are an essential part of the English language and worth learning.

1. Curiosity killed the cat

You can use the idiom “Curiosity killed the cat” as a warning to be careful, as being too curious can lead to trouble or harm. By using this expression, you are cautioning your friends or family about the potential risks of being too nosy or snoopy.

Example sentences:

  • I was tempted to read my sister’s diary, but I know that curiosity killed the cat, so I resisted the urge.
  • You should be careful about digging too deep into your friend’s personal life – remember, curiosity killed the cat.

2. Look what the cat dragged in

It refers to the fact that cats are natural hunters. When they play outside, they may hunt and kill a little mouse or insect, which they might then bring into your family home, perhaps even onto your bed or pillow, as a gift for you.

When your cat brings something in from outside, saying “I love you”, it can be seen as a valuable present. However, when you use the phrase “look what the cat dragged in”, it expresses surprise at the arrival of someone, like saying “Who or what did the cat bring in?”. It is a way of commenting on the unexpected or unwelcome appearance of someone or something.


  • I was about to leave the party when, look what the cat dragged in, my ex-boyfriend showed up uninvited.
  • I was just sitting down for a quiet evening when my neighbor arrived unannounced. Look what the cat dragged in!

3. The cat is out of the bag

When you finally reveal the truth, whether it’s a secret or an unexpected fact, you can just say “the cat is out of the bag”. This phrase means that the truth is now out in the open and visible to everyone, and can no longer be hidden or kept secret.

The origin of the phrase is not clear, but one theory suggests that it refers to a trick that dishonest traders used to play. They would substitute a piglet for a cat in a bag and sell it to unsuspecting customers. If the customer opened the bag and realized the deception, the cat would escape, revealing the fraud. Therefore, “the cat is out of the bag” means that the truth has been revealed and the deception has been uncovered.


  • I accidentally let slip about the surprise party and now the cat is out of the bag.
  • I was trying to hide my feelings, but my friend guessed and told everyone, so the cat is out of the bag now.

4. You’re such a copycat

A copycat is a person who imitates or copies what somebody else is doing. It’s not always about reinventing the wheel, but sometimes it’s about keeping it cool and genuine, as genuine as you can.

The term “copycat” is derived from the behavior of domestic cats, which are known for their tendency to mimic or copy the behaviors of other cats, especially their mothers. Since the early 20th century, the phrase “You’re such a copycat” has been used in the English language to describe someone who imitates the actions or behavior of others.


  • She always wears the same clothes as me, she’s such a copycat.
  • He started using the same slang words as me, it’s like he’s trying to be a copycat.

5. This is like herding cats

Herding is what sheepdogs do, for example, herding the animals together and coordinating them so they all stay within the same group. Some shepherds have two or three or four dogs to make sure they run around the cattle or sheep and keep them together.

When a group of people is difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate or manage, we say it’s like herding cats. Why? Because cats are so independent and do whatever they want; they cannot be controlled. Essentially, the phrase “It’s like herding cats” implies that the situation is chaotic and challenging.

It is believed that the phrase “herding cats” was popularized in the 1980s through a series of commercials for Electronic Data Systems (EDS). The EDS commercials, which aired during the Super Bowl and other high-profile events, featured a cowboy attempting to herd a group of cats across a dusty western landscape. The ad used the phrase “herding cats” to emphasize the difficulty of managing complex information technology projects, which EDS specialized in at the time.


  • Trying to get all of my family members to agree on where to go for vacation is like herding cats.
  • Managing a team of creative professionals can be like herding cats since they all have their own ideas and ways of working.

6. A cat nap

A cat nap refers to a very brief period of sleep, usually lasting just a few minutes. While cats are known for sleeping up to 16 hours a day, they tend to do so in short naps rather than in extended periods of rest like humans.


  • I’m feeling so tired, I’m just going to take a quick cat nap before dinner.
  • The baby finally fell asleep, so I took a cat nap on the couch.

7. Catfight

The term “catfight” refers to a physical fight or altercation between two women that is often perceived as petty or trivial in nature. It is typically used in a derogatory or sexist way to belittle and trivialize women’s conflicts or disagreements.


  • The two girls got into a vicious catfight over the last slice of pizza.
  • The tabloids were filled with scandalous stories of a catfight between two famous actresses.

8. You’re such a scaredy cat

Of course, everybody knows that when you put a cat in a new environment, they tend to be very wary and scared, and they don’t trust people they haven’t met. Calling somebody a “scaredy cat” is probably the opposite of brave.

It is often used to tease or mock someone who is perceived as being overly timid or cautious, and may be used playfully or in a more critical or judgmental way.


  • Tom wouldn’t even try the roller coaster, he’s such a scaredy cat!
  • Mary is too much of a scaredy cat to go camping in the woods at night.

9. It’s raining cats and dogs

This one is really easy, and it means that it’s raining a lot. The idiom “It’s raining cats and dogs” often used to describe a downpour of rain with a lot of force and noise.

The origin of this phrase is uncertain, but there are several theories. One theory suggests that the phrase comes from the old English word “catadupe”, which means “waterfall.” Another theory suggests that the phrase may have originated from the appearance of drowned animals in the streets after heavy rain, which could give the impression that they had fallen from the sky.


  • I’m sorry I’m late, but it’s been raining cats and dogs outside and the roads are flooded.
  • Don’t forget your umbrella, it looks like it’s going to be raining cats and dogs tonight.

10. A cat burglar probably broken 

This expression kind of makes you think of Catwoman, doesn’t it? Well, a cat burglar is a thief who typically breaks into a home and steals valuables. I think they got the name “cat burglar” because in order to climb fences or houses, you need to be extra careful and stealthy. Also, stealing is wrong, so don’t do it.


  • The police were on the hunt for the notorious cat burglar who had been stealing from wealthy homes for months.
  • When the museum’s most valuable painting went missing, everyone suspected it was the work of a skilled cat burglar.

11. When the cat’s away, the mice will play

This is usually a typical work situation, meaning when the boss or the supervisor is out, the employees are getting more relaxed or maybe not working at all. This phrase can be used in various situations where people take advantage of the absence of an authority figure.


  • When our boss is out of the office, it seems like everyone takes longer lunch breaks. When the cat’s away, the mice will play!
  • My parents always told me not to have parties when they were out of town, but I did it anyway. When the cat’s away the mice come out to play, right?

12. Cat got your tongue?

This idiom is used to ask someone why they are not speaking or responding, especially when the person is expected to speak or answer a question. It is often used when someone is silent, speechless, or hesitant to speak.


  • Why are you being so quiet? Cat got your tongue?
  • You seem hesitant to speak up. Does the cat have your tongue?

13. Grin like a Cheshire cat

I’m sure you remember Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat who was quite famous for his big smile. So the idiom “Grin like a Cheshire cat” means to smile broadly and mischievously, often suggesting a sense of satisfaction or pleasure that the person is trying to conceal.


  • After winning the championship, the soccer team was grinning like Cheshire cats during the trophy ceremony.
  • When he received the promotion, he walked around the office with a grin like a Cheshire cat on his face.
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