Etymology
Advertisement

Words related to cat

bee's knees (n.)
1923, a survivor of a fad around this year for slang terms denoting "excellence" and based on animal anatomy. Also existed in the more ribald form bee's nuts. Other versions that lasted through the century are cat's whiskers (1923), cat's pajamas, cat's meow. More obscure examples are canary's tusks, cat's nuts and flea's eyebrows. The fad still had a heartbeat in Britain at the end of the century, as attested by the appearance of dog's bollocks in 1989. Bee's knee was used as far back as 1797 for "something insignificant."
Advertisement
bag (n.)

"small sack," c. 1200, bagge, probably from Old Norse baggi "pack, bundle," or a similar Scandinavian source. OED rejects connection to other Germanic words for "bellows, belly" as without evidence and finds a Celtic origin untenable. In some senses perhaps from Old French bague, which is also from Germanic.

As disparaging slang for "woman" it dates from 1924 in modern use (but various specialized senses of this are much older, and compare baggage). Meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is 1964, from African-American vernacular, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag. Meaning "fold of loose skin under the eye" is by 1867. Related: bags.

To be left holding the bag (and presumably nothing else), "cheated, swindled" is attested by 1793. Many figurative senses, such as the verb meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. This also probably explains modern slang in the bag "assured, certain" (1922, American English).

To let the cat out of the bag "reveal the secret" is from 1760. The source is probably the French expression Acheter chat en poche "buy a cat in a bag," which is attested in 18c. French and explained in Bailey's "Universal Etymological English Dictionary" (1736), under the entry for To buy a pig in a poke as "to buy a Thing without looking at it, or enquiring into the Value of it." (Similar expressions are found in Italian and German; and in English, Wyclif (late 14c.) has To bye a catte in þo sakke is bot litel charge). Thus to let the cat out of the bag would be to inadvertently reveal the hidden truth of a matter one is attempting to pass off as something better or different, which is in line with the earliest uses in English.

Sir Joseph letteth the cat out of the bag, and sheweth principles inimical to the cause of true philosophy, by wishing to make great men Fellows, instead of wise men ["Peter Pindar," "Peter's Prophecy," 1788]
bobcat (n.)
North American lynx, 1873, in a Maine context; so called for its short tail; see bob (n.2) + cat (n.).
cat-bath (n.)

"hurried or partial cleaning," 1935, from cat (n.) + bath (n.). Cat-lick in this sense is from 1892; Middle English had cat-likked "licked clean." 

catbird (n.)

also cat-bird, 1731, common name for the North American thrush (Dumetella Carolinensis), so called from its warning cry, which resembles that of a cat; from cat (n.) + bird (n.1). Catbird seat is a late 19c. Dixieism, popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball announcer Walter "Red" Barber (1908-1992) and by author James Thurber:

"She must be a Dodger fan," he had said. "Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions—picked 'em up down South." Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. [James Thurber, "The Catbird Seat," The New Yorker, Nov. 14, 1942]
catcall (n.)

also cat-call, 1650s, a type of noisemaker (Johnson describes it as a "squeaking instrument") used to express dissatisfaction in play-houses, from cat (n.) + call (n.); presumably because it sounded like an angry cat. As a verb, attested from 1734.

catdom (n.)

"cats generally, the realm of cats," 1853, from cat (n.) + -dom.

caterpillar (n.)

"larva of a butterfly or moth," mid-15c., catyrpel, probably altered (by association with Middle English piller "plunderer;" see pillage (n.)) from Old North French caterpilose "caterpillar" (Old French chatepelose), literally "shaggy cat" (probably in reference to the "wooly-bear" variety), from Late Latin catta pilosa, from catta "cat" (see cat (n.)) + pilosus "hairy, shaggy, covered with hair," from pilus "hair" (see pile (n.3)).

Compare also French chenille "caterpillar," literally "little dog." A Swiss German name for it is teufelskatz "devil's cat." "The caterpillar has in many idioms received the name of other animals" [Kitchin, who cites also Milanese cagnon "little dog," Italian dialectal gattola "little cat," Kentish hop-dog, hop-cat, Portuguese lagarta "lizard."] Compare also American English wooly-bear for the hairy variety. An Old English name for it was cawelworm "cole-worm." Caterpillar tractor, one which travels on endless steel belts, is from 1908, so called from its way of moving.

catfish (n.)

also cat-fish, name given to various types of fish, 1610s, probably in reference to the Atlantic wolf-fish, for its ferocity, from cat (n.) + fish (n.). The North American freshwater fish was so called by 1690s, probably for its "whiskers," or for the purring noise it is said to make when taken from the water. Greek had glanis, glaneos "catfish," especially the large European species found in central and eastern regions north of the Alps, based on glanos "hyena" "thus called because of its voracity and the sound it makes" [Beekes]. Compare dogfish.

cat-head (n.)

"beam projecting from each side of the bows of a ship to hold the anchor away from the body of the ship," 1620s, from cat (n.) in some obscure sense.