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a small domesticated carnivore, Felis domestica or F. catus, bred in a number of varieties.
any of several carnivores of the family Felidae, as the lion, tiger, leopard or jaguar, etc.

a person, especially a man.
a devotee of jazz.

a woman given to spiteful or malicious gossip.
the fur of the domestic cat.
a cat-o’-nine-tails.

Chiefly British. the tapering piece of wood used in the game of tipcat.
Chiefly British. the game itself.
four old cat, one old cat, three old cat, two old cat.

a catboat.
a catamaran.
a catfish.
Nautical. a tackle used in hoisting an anchor to the cathead.
a double tripod having six legs but resting on only three no matter how it is set down, usually used before or over a fire.
Navy Informal. catapult (def 2).
(in medieval warfare) a movable shelter for providing protection when approaching a fortification.
to flog with a cat-o’-nine-tails.
Nautical. to hoist (an anchor) and secure to a cathead.
British Slang. to vomit.
cat around, Slang.

to spend one’s time aimlessly or idly.
to seek sexual activity indiscriminately; tomcat.

bell the cat, to attempt something formidable or dangerous.
let the cat out of the bag, to divulge a secret, especially inadvertently or carelessly:
He let the cat out of the bag, and the surprise party wasn’t a surprise after all.
a Caterpillar tractor.
Contemporary Examples

Tashirojima is a dwindling two-port, 100-person fishing community where cats outnumber humans many times over.
Cats Rule on Japan’s Tashirojima Island Nina Strochlic September 4, 2013

A number of clearly partisan studies have suggested that cats are unfeeling and sociopathic.
Sorry, Internet: Pope Francis Didn’t Open Paradise to Pets Candida Moss December 13, 2014

And you should spill burning secrets, as cats will leap out of bags one way or another.
Horoscopes: The Week of April 3 Starsky + Cox April 2, 2011

But always remember: you are competing for the attention of an elderly woman in the north of England against her four cats.
David’s Book Club: David Copperfield David Frum May 28, 2012

The two were invited by roommates, but Hubley was annoyed that they had let her cats outside.
Yo La Tengo and the Birth of Indie Rock: ‘Big Day Coming’ Reviewed Alyssa Noel June 7, 2012

Historical Examples

The newspapers pounced on them with joy, as cats pounce and purr on catnip.
In a Little Town Rupert Hughes

cats never take the drumsticks when there is a breast, you are aware.
Deerbrook Harriet Martineau

That we must attribute to cats the estimable virtue of benevolence, Mrs F— gives me two anecdotes to prove.
Stories of Animal Sagacity W.H.G. Kingston

When there are a large number of players, two cats may be chosen.
Games and Play for School Morale Various

In ancient Egypt it was a sin to kill a cat; in England cats are slain in myriads without a tremor of compunction.
Flowers of Freethought George W. Foote

noun acronym
credit accumulation transfer scheme: a scheme enabling school-leavers and others to acquire transferable certificates for relevant work experience and study towards a recognized qualification
Also called domestic cat. a small domesticated feline mammal, Felis catus (or domesticus), having thick soft fur and occurring in many breeds in which the colour of the fur varies greatly: kept as a pet or to catch rats and mice
Also called big cat. any of the larger felines, such as a lion or tiger
any wild feline mammal of the genus Felis, such as the lynx or serval, resembling the domestic cat related adjective feline
(old-fashioned) a woman who gossips maliciously
(slang) a man; guy
(nautical) a heavy tackle for hoisting an anchor to the cathead
a short sharp-ended piece of wood used in the game of tipcat
short for catboat
(informal) short for Caterpillar
short for cat-o’-nine-tails
(Irish, informal) a bag of cats, a bad-tempered person: she’s a real bag of cats this morning
fight like Kilkenny cats, to fight until both parties are destroyed
let the cat out of the bag, to disclose a secret, often by mistake
like a cat on a hot tin roof, like a cat on hot bricks, in an uneasy or agitated state
like cat and dog, quarrelling savagely
look like something the cat brought in, to appear dishevelled or bedraggled
not a cat in hell’s chance, no chance at all
not have room to swing a cat, to have very little space
play cat and mouse, to play with a person or animal in a cruel or teasing way, esp before a final act of cruelty or unkindness
put the cat among the pigeons, to introduce some violently disturbing new element
rain cats and dogs, to rain very heavily
verb cats, catting, catted
(transitive) to flog with a cat-o’-nine-tails
(transitive) (nautical) to hoist (an anchor) to the cathead
(intransitive) a slang word for vomit
(informal) short for catamaran (sense 1)

short for catalytic converter
(as modifier): a cat car

short for catalytic a cat cracker
computer-aided teaching
computer-assisted trading

Old English catt (c.700), from West Germanic (c.400-450), from Proto-Germanic *kattuz (cf. Old Frisian katte, Old Norse köttr, Dutch kat, Old High German kazza, German Katze), from Late Latin cattus.

The near-universal European word now, it appeared in Europe as Latin catta (Martial, c.75 C.E.), Byzantine Greek katta (c.350) and was in general use on the continent by c.700, replacing Latin feles. Probably ultimately Afro-Asiatic (cf. Nubian kadis, Berber kadiska, both meaning “cat”). Arabic qitt “tomcat” may be from the same source. Cats were domestic in Egypt from c.2000 B.C.E., but not a familiar household animal to classical Greeks and Romans. The nine lives have been proverbial since at least 1560s.

The Late Latin word also is the source of Old Irish and Gaelic cat, Welsh kath, Breton kaz, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, French chat (12c.). Independent, but ultimately from the same source are words in the Slavic group: Old Church Slavonic kotuka, kotel’a, Bulgarian kotka, Russian koška, Polish kot, along with Lithuanian kate and non-Indo-European Finnish katti, which is from Lithuanian.

Extended to lions, tigers, etc. c.1600. As a term of contempt for a woman, from early 13c. Slang sense of “prostitute” is from at least c.1400. Slang sense of “fellow, guy,” is from 1920, originally in U.S. Black English; narrower sense of “jazz enthusiast” is recorded from 1931.

Cat’s paw (1769, but cat’s foot in the same sense, 1590s) refers to old folk tale in which the monkey tricks the cat into pawing chestnuts from a fire; the monkey gets the nuts, the cat gets a burnt paw. Cat bath “hurried or partial cleaning” is from 1953. Cat burglar is from 1907, so called for stealth. Cat-witted “small-minded, obstinate, and spiteful” (1670s) deserved to survive. For Cat’s meow, cat’s pajamas, see bee’s knees.

1975, medical acronym for computerized axial tomography or something like it. Related: CAT scan.

CAT abbr.
computerized axial tomography


A pistol; firearm; piece: He holstered his own cannon (1900+ Underworld)

Related Terms

loose cannon


A bulldozer or Caterpillar tractor

[1940s+; fr Caterpillar, trademark for a kind of continuous-track tractor]


A catamaran boat (1960s+)


A Cadillac: Tia Juana pulled up in his long green Cat (1940s+ Black)
cheap access to [outer] space
Caterpillar Inc.
clear air turbulence
computerized axial tomography
In addition to the idioms beginning with cat
cat got one’s tongue


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