How many cat-related proverbs and idioms do you know? Introducing "Cat Phrases"

How many cat-related proverbs and idioms do you know? Introducing "Cat Phrases"

Cats have been deeply involved in people's lives since ancient times.

Therefore, many proverbs and idioms related to cats have been born.

How many "cat phrases" do you know?

This time, in addition to the major "cat phrases," we will introduce some profound "cat phrases" that are unique.

 

Table of Contents

1. Cat Phrases Everyone Knows
∟1-1. Gold coins to a cat
∟1-2. Desperate enough to borrow a cat's hand
∟1-3. A cat borrowed
∟1-4. Dogs follow people, cats follow the house
∟1-5. Pretending to be a cat
∟1-6. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry
2. Cat's Body and Cat Phrases
∟2-1. Cat's forehead
∟2-2. A woman's heart is like a cat's eye
∟2-3. A cat's nose and Mt. Atago are cool even in midsummer
∟2-4. If it rains for three days in winter, a cat's face stretches three feet
∟2-5. Overkill for a cat's butt
∟2-6. Cat's tail
3. Cat's Behavior and Cat Phrases
∟3-1. When a cat washes its face, it rains
∟3-2. A paper bag for a cat
∟3-3. As if a cat is rolling a walnut
4. Cat Phrases from Which We Can Learn About Life
∟4-1. Better to remove the plate than chase a cat
∟4-2. A cat considers three months as a year
∟4-3. A cat is the reincarnation of a wealthy person
Summary

 

1. Cat Phrases Everyone Knows

First, we introduce famous cat phrases that everyone knows.

Although commonly used, some might surprise you with their meanings.


 

1-1. Gold coins to a cat

Giving gold coins to a cat, who won't understand their value.

"Even the most valuable and precious things have no worth to those who can't comprehend their true value, and they end up being wasted."

Similar phrases include "Pearls before swine" and "Chanting sutras to a horse."


 

1-2. Desperate enough to borrow a cat's hand

This proverb means being so busy that one would welcome even the slightest help.

Similarly, the proverb "Children are better than cats" means "Even unreliable children are more useful than cats."

This shows how cats were considered "unreliable."

Being in a situation where even a cat's help is needed... just thinking about how busy that must be is scary.


 

1-3. A cat borrowed

"Even if you borrow a cat because you're desperate for help, it quickly escapes to a safe corner and shrinks down."

Cats are territorial animals and become timid when they leave their territory.

This gave rise to the phrase "A borrowed cat" to describe "being unusually quiet and modest."


 

1-4. Dogs follow people, cats follow the house

When the owner returns home, dogs joyfully wag their tails and warmly welcome them.

On the other hand, cats ignore you and sleep in their favorite spot... you might remember the phrase "Dogs follow people, cats follow the house" in such times.

It means dogs cherish their owner's kindness, but cats are attached to the place they live.

A similar phrase is "Cats forget three years of kindness in three days."

However, cats are not heartless or ungrateful.

As cat lovers know, cats don't express their affection as straightforwardly as dogs.

It's their tsundere nature that adds to their charm.


 

1-5. Pretending to be a cat

"Pretending to be a cat" means "hiding one's true nature and pretending to be docile" or "pretending to know nothing."

However, cats are not necessarily docile animals. There are many active and mischievous cats as well.

Why did the phrase "Pretending to be a cat" come into being?

There are two theories:

[1] Cats are ferocious animals, but show unexpected sides like being affectionate when kept, leading to the belief in their dual nature.

[2] In this case, "cat" refers to "neko-da (a large straw mat)," and the phrase originated from the act of covering oneself with a mat to pretend ignorance, later changing from "neko-da" to "cat."


 

1-6. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry

"Every Tom, Dick, and Harry" means "everyone" or "everything."

It is thought to have originated from a phrase in a 1668 kana-zoushi (storybook) "Ikkyu-san's tales" or existed even before that.

However, why "cats" and "ladles" were chosen is unclear.

Common theories include:

[1] Derived from "Neko (Shinto priest)" and "Shakushi (Buddhist monk)."

[2] Derived from "Meko (woman)" and "Jakushi (child)."

[3] Cats and ladles were used as representatives of "common things."

 

2. Cat's Body and Cat Phrases

Next, we introduce "cat phrases" related to the cat's body.

These phrases cleverly incorporate the characteristics of a cat's body, and if you own a cat, you'll find yourself nodding along with "I see!"


 

2-1. Cat's forehead

An idiom indicating "a very small area."

It originated from the small size of a cat's forehead.

However, why the cat's forehead?

There are many animals with narrower foreheads, such as mice and sparrows.

It's thought that cats' large eyes and ears make their foreheads appear particularly small, and because cats have been beloved and familiar animals since ancient times, various theories exist, but its origin is unclear.


 

2-2. A woman's heart is like a cat's eye

A cat's eye (pupil) changes shape based on brightness or emotions, becoming round or needle-like.

This idiom compares it to a woman's fickle and capricious feelings.

However, the "cat" mentioned in the example is indeed a capricious and fickle animal.

Perhaps "A cat's heart is like a cat's eye" would be more appropriate.


 

2-3. A cat's nose and Mt. Atago are cool even in midsummer

A cat's nose is always moist to better catch scents, making it feel cool even in summer.

This gave rise to the proverb comparing it to Mt. Atago, which feels cool even in the heat of summer.

Mt. Atago is a mountain located northwest of Kyoto, revered as a place of worship alongside Mt. Hiei.

With an elevation of 924 meters, it would feel cooler compared to the typically hot Kyoto.

It's interesting that the grand and majestic Mt. Atago and the small, cute cat's nose are compared in this proverb.


 

2-4. If it rains for three days in winter, a cat's face stretches three feet

This proverb means that when it rains in winter, raising the temperature, cats, who dislike the cold, are pleased and puff up their faces.

Three feet is about 90 cm, so it would be quite a surprise if a cat's face actually expanded that much.

Unneutered male cats indeed have faces that appear puffed up.

This is thought to be due to the influence of male hormones, making the cheeks and internals sturdier to lessen damage when bitten during fights.


 

2-5. Overkill for a cat's butt

"Saituchi" refers to a small wooden hammer.

Using it to hit a cat's butt is overkill, indicating the use of unnecessarily elaborate means for a minor task.

A similar phrase is "Using a butcher's knife to cut a chicken."

The base of a cat's tail, especially where it attaches, is a crucial part filled with nerves.

Harming it could result in the inability to walk, so never hit it.

However, some cats enjoy gentle taps or strokes on the "butt tap," which can be a pleasant way to touch them.


 

2-6. Cat's tail

This phrase represents something useless or not a problem if missing.

In the Edo period, it was believed that "cats with long tails are more likely to become Nekomata," leading to the custom of cutting cats' tails.

However, for cats, tails are important for maintaining balance and expressing emotions.

Seeing a cat raise its tail high and quiver with joy when looking at its owner can make one feel very happy.

 

3. Cat's Behavior and Cat Phrases

Next, we introduce "cat phrases" related to cat behavior.

Thinking of cute cat gestures might make you nod along with "Yes, I understand."


 

3-1. When a cat washes its face, it rains

One of the well-known cat phrases. Cats groom their faces by licking their front paws and then rubbing them on their face and whiskers.

It's like wiping one's face with a wet towel.

This "face washing" and weather are not entirely unrelated.

Cat whiskers are excellent sensors that sensitively catch changes in air humidity.

Increased humidity makes the whiskers less stiff, so they groom their face to correct this.

However, cats are very clean animals and wash their faces daily.

Thus, as a weather forecast, it might not be reliable.


 

3-2. A paper bag for a cat

Read as "neko ni kanbukuro."

Putting a paper bag over a cat's face makes it back away cautiously, leading to the meaning of hesitating or retreating in a situation.

Cats love small spaces and are very curious.

Owners may have seen their cat stick its face into a small bag or box, trying to pull it out and backing away.

While cute, this can lead to accidents, so it's best to remove the bag immediately.


 

3-3. As if a cat is rolling a walnut

Given a round object like a walnut, cats play by tapping it with their paws or rolling it around, leading to this proverb describing playful or teasing behavior.

In the past, walnuts might have been given to cats as toys.

One can imagine ancient cats curiously tapping at the hard, round walnut and rolling it around in play.

 

4. Cat Phrases from Which We Can Learn About Life

Finally, we introduce some profound "cat phrases" from which we can learn about life.


 

4-1. Better to remove the plate than chase a cat

Or also said as "Better to move the fish than chase a cat."

Instead of repeatedly chasing away a cat aiming for the fish on the plate, it's faster to put away the plate, teaching that it's more important to address the root cause than to find temporary escapes.

Though different from the original meaning, it can also be interpreted as "It's better to change oneself than to try changing others."

When facing any problem, it's easy to get caught up in the immediate issue, but revisiting the root cause and changing oneself might reveal new solutions.


 

4-2. A cat considers three months as a year

Read as "neko wa mitsuki wo hitotose tosu."

Cats grow quickly, with three months equating to one human year, serving as a reminder not to waste any day and to live a fulfilling life.

Though cats have shorter lifespans compared to humans, they live their lives to the fullest.

Seeing cats live like this can inspire us to do our best.


 

4-3. A cat is the reincarnation of a wealthy person

Without the need to work hard, living a leisurely life suggests that in a previous life, cats were wealthy individuals living comfortably.

Seeing a cat sleep carefreely with its belly exposed while humans hustle might evoke envy or a bit of jealousy.

However, try lying down next to a cat sometimes.

Feeling its soft, warm fur and hearing its purring can make one forget worries and busyness, feeling as if one has become a "wealthy person."

Perhaps, cats teach us that anyone can live comfortably, depending on their mindset.

 

Summary

We introduced proverbs and idioms related to cats.

All are interesting, reflecting the relationship between cats and humans.

There are many more "cat phrases," so those interested should try collecting them.

Back to blog