Cat Got Your Tongue? Cats in Our Language and Culture

Updated on July 7, 2019
Bridget F profile image

Bridget is a long-time cat owner, cat sitter, and cat lover with years of feline research and hands-on experience.

For the Love of Cats

Why do we love cats so much? The answer probably lies in their complexity. Cats are soft, cuddly, and cute at times, but they also know how to tell us exactly when they want to be left alone! They're adorable and calming, but feisty and hilarious at times as well.

Research shows that cat owners are less likely to die of heart attacks than people who have never owned a cat, and that cat ownership is linked to lower blood pressure and the release of serotonin and dopamine. These are neurotransmitters in the brain that have to do with immune system function, feelings of happiness, and reduced stress.

Cats are woven into the fabric of our society in the media, popular culture, and our language! Our expressions, idioms, memes, and jokes are riddled with cat references so often that we tend to hardly notice. Let's take some time to explore how our feline friends are found in our world.

Cat Got Your Tongue?

Why do we ask people if a cat got their tongue when they are inexplicably silent?

Some believe that this saying is from the Egyptian times when the tongues of liars were cut out and given to cats for dinner.

Others believe that it comes from a whip called the “cat-o’-nine-tails," to flog people who misbehaved on Royal Navy Ships. The pain was so horrific that the person who was whipped would be unable to speak for a long time.

There is even a belief that this saying derives from the Middle Ages. During that time, witches were feared and thought to be real. So, it was believed that if a person came upon a witch, her black cat would steal their tongue so that the person would be unable to share what they saw with anyone.

It's Raining Cats and Dogs!

Why do we talk about it raining "cats and dogs" when it's raining heavily outside? Some believe that this saying comes from the fact that cats and dogs tend not to get along very well, so their usage in this phrase could be a reference to the noisy chaos of a heavy downpour or rainstorm.

Others say that in days past, homes had thatched roofs, within which cats and dogs would hide. In heavy rain, the animals would either be washed out of the thatches, or run away from them for better shelter, so it would seem like it was "raining cats and dogs."

The phrase first appears in its modern form in Jonathan Swift’s A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation in 1738: “I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs." It is also found in 1653 in City Wit, a work of the English playwright Richard Brome, in which he wrote “It shall raine ... Dogs and Polecats." This confuses the origin even more, as it is unclear if polecats refers to actual cats or skunks which were referred to as polecats at times.

Other Cat-Related Idioms:

  • "The cat's pajamas"
  • "Don't let the cat out of the bag"
  • "Curiosity killed the cat"
  • "Funny enough to make a cat laugh"
  • "To turn the cat in the pan"

Cats in the Media

Cats are a big part of our media as well, including:

  • Felix the Cat
  • Hello Kitty
  • Garfield
  • Grumpy Cat
  • Lil Bub
  • Lolcat (memes)
  • Pusheen

Felix The Cat Was One of Our First Famous Cat Cartoons
Felix The Cat Was One of Our First Famous Cat Cartoons

Purr-fect Puns

We all love a nice cat-related play-on-words! Here are a few of the most hilarious of them all:

  • That is paws-itively purrfect!
  • Pure bread cat
  • Just kitten!
  • Furrari
  • Purr-jamas
  • Purr-ple
  • Look at me meow
  • Cat-astrophe
  • Cat-atonic
  • Purr-patrator

Hilarious Cat Pun!
Hilarious Cat Pun!

Cat Memes

Cat memes are a current worldwide sensation! Because cats do so many hilarious and perplexing things, we find such joy in memes like these.

Cat Jokes We Love

  • Why don't cats play poker in the jungle? Too many cheetahs.
  • How do cats end a fight? They hiss and make up.
  • What is a cat's way of keeping law and order? Claw Enforcement.
  • What do you call a cat that bowls? An ally cat.
  • How do you make a cat happy? Send it to the Canary Islands.
  • What happened to the cat that ate the ball of yarn? It had mittens!
  • What do you call a cat that's a beauty influencer? A glamorpuss!
  • What do you call a cat that likes to read? Litter-ate
  • Why was the cat sitting on the computer? He was keeping an eye on the mouse.

Feline Fine

It would be a cat-as-trophy to ignore the impact that cats have had on our lives! From our language to our humor to our entertainment and shopping habits, cats are everywhere and for good reason: they are paw-fect!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Bridget F


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      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        16 months ago from USA

        Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought him back. I really like that second part. You’re the cat’s meow. Nervous as a cat covering up sh** on a cement floor. That was one of my great granddaddy's favorites.


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