10 Useful Cat Idioms in English

Did you know today is International Cat Day? To celebrate, we've put together this list of useful English expressions that use the word "cat."

1. Copycat (n., adj.)

"Copycat" is the most popular cat expression on this list. Here are a few situations in which people use it:

  • Two children are drawing pictures. One child draws a tree and the second one decides to draw a tree too. The first child could say to the second "You copycat!"
  • Sometimes, when a crime gets a lot of attention in the news, other criminals will try to carry out similar crimes. These are called "copycat crimes."
  • When a product sells very well, other companies try to make "copycat versions."

Being a copycat isn't always a bad thing! For example, if you really like a specific dish from a famous restaurant, you might look for a "copycat recipe," a recipe that tastes like the original – and sometimes even better.

2. Fat Cat (n.)

A "fat cat" is a rich and powerful person – especially someone thought to have too much money and power. This phrase comes from the idea that fat cats eat more food than other cats, which is unfair.

In recent years, "fat cat" has often been used to criticize CEOs and bankers, because people think they make more money than they deserve. For example:

  • This piece in the New York Times calls billionaires who don't pay taxes "fat cats."
  • In 2009, the US President called bankers "fat cats," because they were making a lot of money in bonuses while everyone else was suffering during the financial crisis.

3. Let the Cat Out of the Bag (idiom)

If you let your cat out of the bag, that means you accidentally let it escape.

In English, the idiom "let the cat out of the bag" means to accidentally share a secret. For example, let's say you and your friends are planning a surprise birthday party for someone, but you accidentally tell the birthday person about it. Your friends would be angry at you for letting the cat out of the bag.

4. Cat Lady (n.)

A "cat lady" is a woman who has a lot of cats. One of the most famous cat ladies in the world is a woman in the US who takes care of over 1,000 cats in her home.

Some people think cat ladies are crazy. However, cat lovers who are women also use the phrase to talk about themselves: e.g. "I now have 15 cats. You could say I'm a bit of a crazy cat lady!"

5. Cat and Mouse Game (idiom)

This English idiom refers to the fact that cats will always chase mice and mice will always do everything they can to escape.

We usually say that people "play (a game of) cat and mouse" or "play a cat and mouse game." For example, if the police "play a game of cat and mouse" with a criminal, this means they get close to catching the criminal, but the criminal escapes. This process will probably happen a few times before one side succeeds.

6. Like Herding Cats (idiom)

If you herd a group of animals, you get them to move together in the same direction. For example, farmers herd sheep.

However, cats are very independent. They won't let people tell them where to go. So if you have a hard time managing a group of people, you can say it's "like herding cats" or "as easy as herding cats."

For example, bringing a large family on a trip is "as easy as herding cats." Everyone will need to go to the bathroom at a different time or they'll all want to visit different sites and some members of the family will probably start arguing with each other.

7. Catcall (n., v.)

When people make loud, rude noises at someone, that's called "catcalling." Originally, this word was used to describe the sounds people made in theatres when they were not happy with an actor on stage.

These days, catcalling more often refers to a form of public harassment, where someone (usually a man) makes rude sounds at a stranger (usually a woman) on the street. This is unfortunately an issue in many big cities. Here's a news report you can watch to understand more.

8. Cool Cat (n.)

"Cool cat" is a way to say that someone is cool and you like them: e.g. "Matt's a cool cat." For example, here's a video of a former US President using the phrase to introduce a friend on stage:

9. Curiosity Killed the Cat (proverb)

Cats are curious animals and sometimes their curiosity gets them into trouble. This is where the proverb "curiosity killed the cat" comes from.

You'll sometimes still hear this proverb used as a warning. For example, if you suspect that your neighbor is doing something illegal and want to find out, a friend might warn you, "It's better not to know. As they say, curiosity killed the cat!"

10. Cat Got Your Tongue? (phrase)

"Cat got your tongue?" is short for "Has the cat got your tongue?" If you ask a friend a question, but they don't answer straight away, you could say, "Cat got your tongue?" This is a fun and friendly way of asking someone why they aren't talking.

Keep in mind that this phrase can be rude, so only use it with people you're close to.

Do You Like Cats and Want to Improve Your English Speaking Skills?

Talking about things you like is one of the best ways to get better at speaking. So if you love cats, join Engoo so you can study with some cat-loving tutors and use learning materials about cats. Here are some lessons to get you started: