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Cat Sayings: The Origins and Meanings of 18 Popular Cat Sayings

cat sayings

Ever heard someone say, ‘don’t let the cat out of the bag?’ or been told that ‘curiosity killed the cat.’ Where do these cat sayings come from? Let’s find out!

Have you ever wondered where popular cat sayings come from? Cats are often the subject matter for literature, movies, and TV shows. A lot of cat quotes have become famous proverbs – but what do cat sayings really mean? 

There are many sayings and proverbs about cats that have been used for decades. Let’s look at some of the most common cat sayings in the English language and investigate where they originated from.

Cat Sayings

ginger kitten

1. A cat has nine lives

This saying is an old English proverb that says cats can survive anything. A cat can land on its feet, even when falling from a height. They are also skilled at avoiding predators and often seem to escape potentially hazardous situations unscathed. As a result, cats were seen as lucky creatures, and the phrase became part of our modern-day vocabulary.

2. Curiosity killed the cat

Another old English proverb which warns against inquisitiveness because it can be dangerous or lead to death. This saying may not be entirely accurate since it contradicts most people’s experience with cats. Felines are generally curious and live for at least 12 years!

don't let the cat out of the bag

3. Don’t let the cat out of the bag

The saying is used to warn someone not to let a secret slip out. It’s an old expression that goes back to the 16th century when thieves would steal items from homes by putting them in a bag or sack so they could carry them away unseen.

At the time, thieves were often killed for their crimes. “Letting the cat out of the bag” refers to telling others about something valuable that has been taken without permission and may result in violence if discovered.

let sleeping cats lie

4. Let sleeping cats lie

This saying is based on the idea that cats are very sensitive animals and should not be woken up suddenly. Cats sleep for up to 18 hours a day. If you want to avoid any negative behavior associated with sudden waking – let sleeping cats lie!

when the cats away the mice will play
Common cat sayings, 'when the cats away the mice will play!' and 'cats always land on their feet'

5. When the cats away, the mice will play

This saying refers to the idea that when a person in authority is not present, other people will often misbehave or have fun.

6. Cats always land on their feet

This is another popular saying which is based on a fable called “The cat and Venus.” In this story, an unlucky cat jumps off a table at just the wrong moment but manages to land safely on his feet because of his ability to rotate in mid-air.

A cat named Sugar is thought to hold the record for surviving the highest fall. Sugar fell from the window of an apartment on the 19th floor. She survived and sustained bruised lungs and amazingly didn’t break any bones. Sugar’s story was told in the 2014 documentary ‘The Secret Life of Cats.’ 

cat got your tongue
Popular cat sayings: 'Cat got your tongue?' and 'like a cat on hot bricks.

7. Cat got your tongue

This common question comes from a famous line in the play, “The mysterious stranger.” In this story, one character is quiet and doesn’t speak much. He doesn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, another character asks him if his cat has his tongue – which could be interpreted as something scary being taken away by the feline.

8. Like a cat on hot bricks

This common phrase is used to describe someone who seems nervous or anxious about something. It comes from the idea that cats are very sensitive animals and will seek out warm areas – like heated bricks beside a fireplace.

9. It's raining cats and dogs!

This cat saying describes a heavy rainstorm. The origin comes from the fact that heavy rainfall makes it seem like animals are falling out of the sky (even though we know this isn’t true). This phrase comes from an old Grimm fairy tale called “The Frog King.”

10. A black cat crossing your path signifies bad luck

This common superstition has been around for centuries. It originates from an Irish proverb that says, “When a cat crosses your path from right to left, it is lucky. When the same occurs from left to right, it brings bad luck.” The origin of this superstition comes from an old Irish tale called “Bees and Butter,” in which a man tries several times to cross paths with a black cat and ultimately fails.

11. Cats and dogs are mortal enemies

This cat quote is based on the idea that cats and dogs have a long history of being constantly at war with each other. Cats and dogs fighting has become a common theme in many books, films, and TV programs. The origin comes from an Aesop fable called “The dog and the cat.” In this story, a dog and a cat are friends until the two become enemies one day. The moral of the story is that our closest friends can quickly turn into something completely different!

cat sayings we've recently found, 'the cat on the mat is not a lion,' and 'cats are like potato chips.'

12. The cat on the mat is not a lion

This saying means that something may look dangerous but be harmless. It is used to describe people or objects with an imposing appearance, but are in fact, very weak or not up for the challenge at hand.

13. Cats are like potato chips

You can’t just have one pet cat; you’ll always want more. This phrase has no specific origin but was used in an episode of Friends.

14. Stop pussyfooting around

This saying came about in the early 1900s when football was becoming popular. If a player wasn’t playing very well, their teammates would tell them to ‘stop pussyfooting around.’

The saying came from this frustration and was used in a derogatory manner. It has evolved throughout the years and is now commonly used when someone feels that another person is being lazy or isn’t taking something seriously.

15. Don't be a scaredy-cat!

A person who does not want to participate in an event or do something because they are afraid is a scaredy-cat. The origin of this common saying is unknown.

16. All cats are grey in the dark

This is a proverb that means that it can be hard to tell people apart from each other in some situations. The saying originates from the fact that cats are often light-coloured, but we have a hard time seeing their true colours if it’s dark.

In this analogy, people are represented by cats, and being able to see them easily is defined by seeing in the dark. This proverb is helpful because it reminds us that you cannot judge things based on appearances alone, and not everything is as it initially seems.

Mean Cat Sayings

Don’t try these at home!

17. There's not room to swing a cat in here

This old saying means that there isn’t room to do anything. The phrase originated from medieval sailors who would have cats on their ships to keep the rodent population down.

18. There's more than one way to skin a cat

This saying means that there are several different ways to do something. It is also used negatively when someone is trying to make it seem like something is much easier than it is.

Cat Sayings: Final Thoughts…

Cat lovers continue to share these sayings to pass on folk wisdom from one generation to the next. If you enjoyed these sayings, you might like to check out our article, ‘45 Cute Cat Quotes: Entertaining Quotes About Cats’

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