What Does “Cat Got Your Tongue?” Mean?

Discover the fascinating history behind the popular idiom 'Cat Got Your Tongue?' and uncover the various theories about its origin.

Origin of ‘Cat Got Your Tongue?’

‘Cat Got Your Tongue?’ is an idiomatic expression that is used to ask someone why they are not speaking or why they are quiet.

Here are three brief definitions of the idiom:

  1. A question asked when someone is silent or not speaking.
  2. A phrase used to ask someone why they are not speaking.
  3. An expression used to ask someone why they are being quiet.

Here are three example sentences that use the idiom:

  1. “Why are you so quiet? Has the cat got your tongue?”
  2. “I asked him a question, but he didn’t answer. It’s like the cat got his tongue.”
  3. “She was speechless when she saw the surprise party. It was like the cat got her tongue.”

Here are three synonyms of the idiom:

  1. Speechless
  2. At a loss for words
  3. Tongue-tied

Historical References

There are different theories about the origin of the expression ‘Cat Got Your Tongue?’.

One theory suggests that the phrase originated in ancient Egypt, where tongues were cut out as a punishment for lying.

However, there is no evidence to support this theory.

Naval Theories

Another theory suggests that the phrase originated in the British Navy, where sailors were punished with a whip called the “cat-o’-nine-tails” for not following orders.

The punishment was so severe that sailors were often left speechless.

Do the phrases “cat got your tongue?” and “like a cat on a hot tin roof” have similar meanings?

The phrases “cat got your tongue?” and “like a cat on a hot tin roof” both convey the feeling of being speechless or on edge.

While “cat got your tongue?” directly questions someone’s silence, “like a cat on a hot tin roof” implies nervousness or agitation.

So, the meaning of “cat on hot tin roof” suggests tension or discomfort.

French Connection

A third theory suggests that the phrase comes from the French expression “avoir le chat dans la gorge,” which means “to have a cat in the throat.” This expression is used to describe someone who is hoarse or has a sore throat.

In conclusion, the origin of the expression ‘Cat Got Your Tongue?’ is uncertain.

While there are different theories about its origin, there is no definitive answer.

However, the expression remains a popular idiom that is used to ask someone why they are not speaking or why they are being quiet.