c. 1600, "use the hands roughly, handle clumsily;" also "draw the forefoot along the ground, scrape with the forefoot," from paw (n.). Related: Pawed; pawing. Middle English had pawen "to touch or strike with the paw" (c. 1400).
c. 1300, paue, "hand or foot of an animal which has nails or claws" (distinguished from a hoof), from Old French powe, poue, poe "paw, fist," a word of uncertain origin. OED points to Germanic cognates and suggests a Frankish origin for the French word. Barnhart says evidence points to the Germanic word being borrowed from a Gallo-Roman root form *pauta (source also of Provençal pauta, Catalan pota). Century Dictionary says the modern Welsh and Breton words are from English and French. Compare patten. In reference to the human hand, especially if large or coarse, c. 1600.
"hand, paw, fist," 1650s, "a nursery word," according to OED. It has been compared to Dutch poot "paw;" see paw (n.).
Old English catt (c. 700) "domestic cat," from West Germanic (c. 400-450), from Proto-Germanic *kattuz (source also of 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 (compare 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 at least since 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 katė 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 African-American vernacular; narrower sense of "jazz enthusiast" is recorded from 1931.
Cat's paw (1769, but cat's foot in the same sense, 1590s) refers to the old folk tale in which the monkey tricks the cat into pawing chestnuts from a fire; the monkey gets the roasted nuts, the cat gets a burnt paw. 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. For let the cat out of the bag, see bag (n.).
"changing in luster or color," like a cat's eye in the dark, 1816, from French chatoyant, past participle of chatoyer, from chat "cat" (see cat (n.)).
"a provincial dialect, a dialect peculiar to a district or locality," especially among the uneducated classes, 1640s, from French patois "native or local speech" (13c.), a word of uncertain origin, probably from Old French patoier "handle clumsily, to paw," from pate "a paw," from Vulgar Latin *patta (see patten), in other words, a "clumsy" manner of speaking. Compare French pataud "properly, a young dog with big paws, then an awkwardly built fellow" [Brachet]. Especially in reference to Jamaican English from 1934.