Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday Trivia: Cat got your tongue?

How many of you grew up with this phrase?

It was most often said by an adult, and - at least in our home - frequently delivered in a teasing manner toward a child suddenly shy around newcomers.

Or perhaps it was delivered in a chiding tone, when you were caught doing something you shouldn’t?

The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Catch Phrases defines it as “A fanciful explanation for a person’s silence or refusal to speak.”

The phrase isn’t all that old, actually.

Its dates back to the mid-1800’s, both in the U.S. and England. Word Wizard chased it back to 1859, in an article in an Illinois newspaper:

“To this I made no answer. I loved a rainy day, too, but I was not disposed to say so just then. ‘Oh no! The cat has got your tongue has it?’” 

Maxwell wonders whyever anyone would think a cat would want a human tongue, when he already has a perfectly serviceable one?


Jacksonville Journal Courier (Illinois), 23 January, page 2.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, Richard A. Spears, McGraw-Hill, September 1, 2003.

WordWizard Cat Got Your Tongue?


  1. Hmmm! I don't know why a cat would need two tongues? Seems a bit strange! MOL

  2. Unless it was delicately cooked in a nice chicken stock and cut up into teeny tiny pieces

  3. BOL funny Patty's comment. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  4. I agree with Maxwell - cat tongues are WAY better and more useful than human tongues!

  5. That is a very interesting series of facts!

  6. I guess you kitties could do a double bath with a second tongue?

  7. We thought this saying might have had to do with the German candies! It's interesting to hear where it really came from.

  8. We always wondered why humans used this expression.

  9. We loved learning the origins of this phrase, but we love Maxwell's tongue even more! :)

  10. Thanks for the trivia! Maxwell you sure do look make mom squeeeeee!


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