13 Cat Expressions Every English Learner Should Know (and the Fascinating Story of Meru, the RLE Cat)

Are you a cat lover?

Did you know that long before cats and kittens [baby cats] invaded the internet with their cute and funny videos (and pictures), these loveable creatures invaded the English language with idioms and expressions?

Actually, cats are as much a part of the English language as they are a part of your Facebook and Youtube entertainment.

In my opinion, you aren’t fluent until you know at least a few cat idioms, and today we are going to teach you the thirteen most important and popular cat expressions that every English learner needs to know.

But first I’m going to share a short and entertaining story about the cat in the above picture. Contrary to what you might believe, this beautiful white cat is not an expensive cat model or a marketing ploy [trick] to convince you to keep reading.

The white cat in the above picture is my cat, Meru, who is the official Real Life English mascot [an animal believed to bring luck, symbolizing a team or organization], and she inspired me to write this article.

If you’re an animal lover and want to hear the funny, entertaining, and even educational story of Meru, the RLE Mascot, then keep reading. It contains a lot of cat vocabulary too.

If you prefer to only read the 13 Cat Expressions we promised, then click here to skip this short story and go straight to the expressions.

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The Adventures of Meru, The Real Life English Cat

Meru showed up [appeared] at the Real Life English House in the middle of my birthday party about a year and a half ago. She was trying to steal food from my other cat Potala.

She was this tiny [very small] white ball of fur [animal hair] that smelled like piss [urine], and when I tried to grab her, she hissed at me [hiss: the noise cats make when they are scared]. She was such a cute [adorable] kitten [baby cat], and she was obviously hungry, so I grabbed her and took her inside to feed her [give food].

Normally a stray cat [stray: from the street] showing up  like this would have seemed like a big dilemma, but for some reason, we were very drawn [attracted] to her.

Our friend, Joshpleaded [begged] to keep her, and it felt like the right decision, so we approved. My girlfriend at the time wanted to name her Meru, from “Mount Meru,” which is a white mountain that symbolizes the center of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist cultures, while Josh wanted to name her Cassius, which is a name associated with a powerful hunter.

We ended up calling her Meru Cassius. At first we weren’t sure if Meru was a boy or a girl, but a good friend of ours would later help us determine the sex of the kitten.

I ended up  taking care of her all the time, so I became her owner (caretaker).

As time passed, Meru started to get famous around the neighborhood and in our community of friends because she was so friendly, cute, and the fact that she acted much more like a dog than a cat.

She was also very beautiful, like a little princess cat, and she started to market herself in social media with her Facebook account with pictures like the one to the right.

People everywhere were showering [giving profusely] Meru with not just Facebook likes, but also compliments and presents, like the beautiful pink dress shown here. She started to get even more famous when Josh included her in a popular Real Life English article.

Meru’s fame was growing, and as her beauty grew, we started to anticipate offers for her to act in movies and TV commercials. This was my chance to make it big [to be successful] and to be the parent of a Hollywood star. Few people know this, but the world’s most famous cats can make a lot of money, and so do their owners.

I even let her sleep in my bed.

Not only was Meru winning me friends and popularity, I had already started to write the manuscript for a book I was writing that I was calling Meru and Me (the cat version of Marley and Me). I was sure it would be an instant bestseller.

Little did we know, however, that a dramatic turn of events [change in plans] was just around the corner [about to happen].

The first big shock was when I caught her fighting with an adult cat that looked exactly like her. Because we pampered her [treated her very comfortably], she was literally a scaredy cat [A coward]. We would soon find out that this adult white cat, that looked like a bigger version of Meru, belonged to our neighbor.

This filled our heads with a lot of doubts and questions. Was Meru really telling us the truth? Was she really a kitten we rescued from the street, or just a snobby house cat who was trying to take advantage of our good-natured hospitality?

I couldn’t believe it at first. I lied to myself for weeks after the incident as the owner of the other white cat denied any relationship between the two cats. But they looked too much alike for it to be a coincidence.

The cold hard truth started to set in [to become apparent]: the other white cat was her mother. Meru had been living with us for months without telling us that her Mom lived next door [in the house next to us]. Meru was not a stray cat.

We felt betrayed. Dreams of fame , TV commercials, and Hollywood films seemed to be completely shattered [broken into many pieces]. It was all too good to be true. Meru’s story was a complete lie.

Meru’s mom would appear again and again in the following months, always fighting with her, causing trouble (like in the picture to the left). Potala, Meru’s stronger step sister, had to protect her, as Meru was a wimp [terrible fighter].

She was spoiled.

Little by little, the truth would reveal itself through several neighborhood sources, and we were surprised again to find out what had really happened between Meru and her mom.

We were wrong to judge Meru.

The only reason she had lied to us was because she was just scared, traumatized, and she was in danger.

We really had no idea how hard Meru’s life had been. Her mother was a crack addict who was not fit to take care of her. She had beaten her from the time she was born and then left her in the street to fend for herself [survive on her own] at the tender age of 2 months.

That’s when she ran away [escape] from her mom and we adopted her. We had saved her life, but now Meru’s mom wanted her back, and was stalking her [hunting]. After a few months of the drama of cats fighting every day, we finally managed to keep Meru’s mom away, and things were just starting to get back to normal.

I had gotten back to work on the manuscript for Meru and Me, and Josh had restarted Meru’s Facebook campaign. I knew that the call from Hollywood would happen any day. Things were finally getting back on track [on the right path] with our grand plan when the second shock wave hit us.

It was a day just like any other, and I was preparing my classes for the evening. That’s when I heard the same desperate meow I had become accustomed to. This time it was worse though. It was as if something bad were about to happen.

She was stuck inside the roof again, and just like the first two times, I had to climb up on top of our house, pull the tile off the roof and pull her out.  This one took a particularly long time, and as I climbed down with Meru in my arms, my student, Marcio, was waiting for me, impressed by my heroics.

“Hey Marcio,” I said, “Sorry for being late. I had to be a hero again. My little princess got stuck inside the roof.”

Marcio looked confused. “Princess?” He said. “Isn’t Meru a boy?”

“What are you talking about, Marcio? Of course she’s a girl. Isn’t she beautiful?” I replied as I put her on the ground in front of him.

“I don’t think so, man.” he said, pointing to Meru from behind as she walked by, “you should give it a closer look, my friend.”

As my gaze [look] followed his pointing fingers, the second shocking truth hit me like a ton of bricks: two little white furry testicles popped out from between her legs.

Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it. Meru was a boy! It was like a kick in the stomach.I couldn’t breathe.

In the aftermath [the time period that followed] of the shocking discovery, we had to learn to change our perception of Meru, and even our treatment of her – I mean him.

First of all, we had to break the habit of calling Meru a her (or a she). I always had to correct myself (like in this video we made about greetings).We also had to stop treating him like a little princess with pink shirts, and coddling her [treat in an overprotective way]. She was a he now, and he would have to learn to hold his own [defend himself] with other cats.

We also realized that Meru, as a boy, wasn’t as cute and talented as the girl version of him was, and little by little we started to abandon our dreams of Hollywood and Meru and Me, the book I was writing.

He was cute and charismatic enough, however, to win a job as the Real Life English Mascot, so we decided to contract him as an actor in our commercials.

Who knows, maybe Hollywood will call. Check out Meru’s superb acting job in this Real Life English commercial for the invite to the Real Life English Party:

I hope you enjoyed the Adventures of Meru, the Real Life English Cat (based on a true story. Some of the facts may have been exaggerated). Now here are the 13 Cat Expressions!

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13 Cat Expressions Every English Speaker Should Know

1. Cat Got Your Tongue? (say something!)

It’s very common to say “(Has a) Cat Got Your Tongue?” when you’re asking somebody why they aren’t speaking. It’s not disrespectful, and is often very effective communication. This expression originates in medieval times when kings punished liars by cutting off their tongues and then feeding it to their cats. 

2. A Copycat (a person who copies/imitates another)

Kids often call each other “copycat” when somebody copies them, and adults may joke around with this too. For example, a young boy who copies his brother’s haircut may be called a copycat.

3. It’s Raining Cats and Dogs (it’s raining very hard)

This is very commonly used to describe the weather when it’s raining hard. The origin of this expression comes from the fact that cats were once known to symbolize strong wind, and dogs symbolized rain.

4. Scaredy Cat/ Fraidy Cat (coward)

A fraidy or scaredy cat is someone is afraid to do something.  The “y” is a diminutive used by kids. Adults may jokingly use these too. Because cats are known to back down (escape, run from) dogs, kids use this to make fun of their scared classmates.

5. Let the Cat Out of The Bag? (accidentally tell a secret)

To let the cat out of the bag is to unintentionally ruin a secret. An example of this might be if you accidentally reveal a surprise birthday party to the person the party is for. The origin of the idiom is said to be in medieval markets when Piglets (baby pigs) were put in a bag to be sold, and every once in a while a seller would try to replace the piglet with a cat (which was cheaper), until somebody would open the bag and let the cat out (ruining the thief’s secret).

6. Fat Cat (rich and powerful person)

Fat cat is a colloquial way to describe someone who has a lot of wealth and power. If you think about a stereotypical rich person (at least traditionally), the image may resemble a well-fed cat that is almost never skinny.

7. Cat Burlgar (skilled, sneaky burglar/thief)

Cat Burglar is a thief or robber who robs somebody’s home in a silent and sneaky way. Think of a cat walking in the dark, with ninja-like movements, almost without making a noise.

8. Play Cat and Mouse (to strategically chase, tease, torture)

 To play cat and mouse is for somebody or something to chase the other in a very strategic, teasing, and game-like way (like a cat chasing and playing with a mouse).  Think of a superhero movie when the villain is chasing an innocent person in a cruel, strategic way.

9. Look What the Cat Dragged In! (an unpleasant surprise to see you)

This is a way to express surprise, and sometimes disgust at a person who shows up. The person may very well haggard (exhausted, dirty, and/or not in the best shape). We may use this in an ironic tone to welcome somebody for a pleasant surprise too. If you have a cat that goes outside, you know that they bring back all kinds of unpleasant things. For example, just yesterday my cat Meru walked in with a pigeon [type of bird] in his mouth. Drag: to pull something along forcefully, with great effort. Note* Even though native speakers (including me) often use drug as the past tense of drag, dragged is correct.

10. Cat Fight  (fight between two women)

Because women often scratch, claw, and yell when they fight, like cats do (that’s the stereotype at least), an intense fight between two women is often called a cat fight (noun).

11. Cool Cat (somebody who is cool and/or popular)

 A cool cat is somebody who is hip, cool, and in style. This is basically the definition of the world cool, but that’s an adjective, so to call somebody a cool cat is like saying that he’s a hip/stylish and/or popular guy. Just like Meru in the picture up top, a cool cat is calm, content, and has everything under control.

12. Catnap (sleep for a short period of time)

To take a nap is to sleep for a little bit during the day (up to an hour maybe), so a catnap is an even smaller and lighter period of sleep time, imitating a cat who sleeps for just a few minutes. 

13. Land on Your Feet (recover quickly from a bad experience or obstacle)

This one doesn’t have cat in it, but it’s a clear cat metaphor, as cats are famous for landing on their feet when they fall. The same is true for people with resilience (the ability to recover quickly after difficulties) who, like cats, always seem to land on their feet.

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13 Comments

  1. Ethan Zinho on September 9, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Aww Meru look's so adorable; I miss him! Really funny and awesome way of introducing these idioms. It's really funny how many expressions we have with cats in English.

  2. Rawda Essam on September 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    I enjoyed reading the story of your cat. He looked cute with the pink dress 🙂 It’s too bad that I’ve phobia from cats. In Arabic language , we use the same idiom, cat got your tongue? I just love when the Arabic language shares with English some common idioms, it becomes much easier to memories. Thanks a lot for the amazing article, useful as always.

    • Justin on September 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Thank you Rawda! I’m glad you enjoyed it and thought it was funny. What’s up with the phobia of cats? Do you at least like dogs? Thanks for reading Rawda. Hug!

  3. JJ OL on September 10, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Awwwww I really enjoyed the meru´s story! adorable! and the expressions very useful as always! great as always kudos darling! *-*

    • Justin on September 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you JJ for the nice comment. I’m glad you found the article useful and that you like Meru! Abrazote

  4. Rawda Essam on September 13, 2013 at 12:31 am

    I only have phobia from cats, dunno why. yeah I like dogs and the other animals.

  5. Dalya Azad on March 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing as usual you're the best

  6. Taranom on March 14, 2014 at 10:08 am

    i just llllllooooovvvveeee CATS! I’m sure that I’m gonna learn these expressions very quickly!

  7. Nadia-Nero on March 18, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    some cat !

    • Justin on March 25, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      I’m glad you liked him! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Nadia-Nero on March 18, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    oh ! forgot ! thanx for bringing up mythical and historical lines you used to give more explanation in the expressions, a regular dictionary doesnt give alll that (At least the one I have !!) .

  9. Mari Luz on March 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    I really enjoyed this history. I love cats. I can’t avoid touch them if they let me. Funnily, in Spanish we say the same expression when somebody don’t speak but I didn’t know its origin.

    • Justin on March 23, 2015 at 10:56 am

      Hey Mari, Thanks for the nice comment! What do you guys say in Spanish? El gato tiene mi lingua?

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