Cat Idioms

A ginger cat being carried over a shoulder

Idioms are everywhere in the English language, and there are plenty of animal-related idioms out there. With their nine lives, all-seeing eyes and ability to navigate many a situation or garden fence with grace and elegance, cats are the inspiration for a number of commonly-used idioms.

Today, in celebration of this Saturday’s International Cat Day, we will look at five cat-related idioms and their meanings. See if you can incorporate them into your English conversations this week.

1. The cat that got the cream

If you are looking particularly happy or proud and satisfied with yourself, it may be said that you look like the cat that got the cream.

“James looked like the cat that got the cream when Lucy agreed to go to dinner with him.”

“Lisa was delighted when the boss complimented her idea in the meeting. She looked like the cat that got the cream.”

2. Curiosity killed the cat

An expression used to mean that being too nosy or too curious about something can lead to one’s downfall.

“When Anne started asking George how he afforded all those new clothes he warned her that curiosity killed the cat.”

“I advise you not to try and find out where that money is coming from. Curiosity killed the cat.”

3. Look what the cat dragged in/ to look like something the cat dragged in

A statement used to describe surprise at someone who has just arrived looking dishevelled, untidy or messy. Depending on the tone, this statement can be used in a joking manner but could also come across as rude or offensive.

“When Hayley arrived home from the party at 6am her disapproving parents simply remarked, ‘look what the cat dragged in’.

“Look at your hair! It’s crazy weather out there! You look like something the cat dragged in!

4. Like herding cats

Any cat owner knows that getting just one cat to follow orders is not an easy task. So herding a whole group of individually-minded felines would be very difficult. Coordinating a large or distracted group of people is often described as like herding cats; a near-impossible task.

 “I’m trying to get everyone together for my birthday at the weekend, but with everyone working different hours it’s like herding cats!

“Trying to get the first graders organised for their class photo was like herding cats.”

5. Put the cat amongst the pigeons

To put the cat amongst the pigeons is to do or say something that causes an uproar or widespread dissatisfaction or worry.

 “There’s a rumour going around that the new guy is earning more, despite having less experience. That’s really put the cat amongst the pigeons.

 “The announcement that the team would receive a ten-percent pay cut in the next three months really put the cat amongst the pigeons.”


Now test your understanding!

Fill in the sentences below with the correct Cat idiom. Post your answers in the comments below.

1. “I got caught in a rainstorm on my way to the meeting. I was so embarrassed, when I walked in I __________________!”

2. “We don’t want to ___________________, so we are trying to delay telling the employees about the losses the company has been making.”

3. “Getting all the kids to stand in line before starting the race was like _________________.”

4. “Simon was fired after the boss caught him reading his emails. ____________________.”

5. “Eleanor was beaming with pride about her promotion. She ______________________.”

Discussion questions (free answer):

  1. Can you think of a time when you had to organise a group of people and it felt like herding cats? How did you cope with the situation?
  2. Can you think of a situation where you felt like the cat that got the cream? What was it?

Let us know by posting your answers in the comments below.

Can’t get enough of idioms? In our previous blog posts we have discussed water idioms, house and home idioms, baby idioms and business idioms to name just a few.

We also have a wonderful course in our academy on Essential English Idioms which covers a wide range of weird and wonderful English idioms. Why not check it out today?

This blog was written and recorded by Intrepid English teacher, Kate.

You can visit my Intrepid English Teacher profile page to find out more about me and add me as a friend! 

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