We’ve all heard people make catty remarks, comments that tend to be spiteful and unkind. But where did the term come from?
Beyond the comment that it evolved from “cat” + “y” (as found in most dictionaries), we didn’t see a specific call-out regarding its origins.
Though anyone who has worked with cats in shelters has experienced the sudden turn in behavior that can come if you’re not watching for the subtle warnings and clues that a stressed cat can exhibit.
Considering this, going from "sweet to spiteful" might indeed be the organic origin of today’s phrase.
|Before this cat hissed, the signs were there if you knew to look: |
airplane ears are a good indicator someone's not happy!
Photo: Tambako via Flickr Creative Commons
We were surprised to learn that the first use of "catty" in print is so recent. The Online Etymology Dictionary dates it back to 1886. We did locate an earlier use, but it was as a nickname for “Catherine” in a book published in London, in 1825:
We did discover an interesting and completely unrelated second meaning.
A catty – or, more properly, kati – was a unit of measure in late-16th century China.
|10-Catty/Kati weight from Qin Shi Huang Dynasty. |
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The East India Company officially determined that one kati = 1.34 pounds back in 1770.
So now you know!
Online Etymology Dictionary
The Oxford Dictionary
Tales and Miscellaneous Piecces, by Maria Edgeworth. Thomas Davison, Whitefriars. London, 1825.
Kati: Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia