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Cliche Origins

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  • Cliche Origins

    Got the Cat By The Tail

    Okay my husband brought up the cliché “got the cat by the tail” today, and I asked him what he thought he meant but he didn’t know. So now we are curious (and yes curiosity killed the cat). I have been searching web sites for clichés and their origins and meanings, but so far no luck on that one. Any ideas?

  • #2


    • #3
      I've never heard 'cat by the tail', but 'got a tiger by the tail' comes from the belief that as long as you held onto the tiger's tail he couldn't kill you, though you're in for a rough ride.
      Learn by teaching
      Take responsibility for learning


      • #4
        To 'Ride the Tiger' alludes in history to dictators who of course could never dismount.


        • #5
          Yeah...I finally found it on an idiom web site thanks to Doug's redirection from cat to tiger.

          "have a tiger by the tail "
          Informal: to find oneself in a situation that has turned out to be much more difficult to control than one had expected.

          Source:, The Collins English Dictionary

          And Chris there is also an idiom about riding a tiger...

          "he who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount"
          Source: Bertram, Anne (Bowl of Cherries)

          Idiom Web Site


          Last edited by T Paul; 06-08-2002, 02:08 PM.


          • #6
            anybody know the other way to skin a cat ?


            • #7
              hydrochloric acid dip?


              • #8
                Poor cats seem to figure in a lot of clichés like the one "not enough room to swing a cat". Poor cats.


                • #9
                  and lets not forget "as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs "


                  • #10
                    Hmmm...What's the matter?

                    "Cat got your tongue?"

                    And if so, where's he got it?


                    • #11
                      there are a lot of cat ones....

                      "let the cat out of the bag "


                      "look what the cat dragged in"

                      "cat's pajamas "

                      "like a cat on a hot tin roof"

                      "raining cats and dogs"

                      "when the cat's away, the mice will play"


                      • #12
                        When I was a kid, every time I'd say, "What for?" my mom would answer

                        "Cat's fur to make kitten britches"

                        To this day I have no idea what that one even means...
                        Last edited by Jakaleena; 06-10-2002, 09:48 PM.


                        • #13
                          Okay Jak this is what I found.....

                          The phrase "Cat's fur to make kitten britches" is a joking nonsense reply to the question "What for?" or "What's that for?" It's a pun on the words for and fur, which are often pronounced identically.

                          There are other examples of this sort of wordplay in response to questions:

                          "So what?"
                          "Sew buttons"

                          "The well is deep" (or "dry")

                          Although hard evidence is lacking, the expression cat's fur to make kitten britches seems to date back to the nineteenth century. It isn't specifically associated with any region of the country.

                          And now you know the rest of the story.
                          Last edited by T Paul; 06-10-2002, 09:49 PM.


                          • #14
                            Yeah, I think as I got a bit older I started to understand the play on words between "what for" and "Cat's fur" - it was the "kitten britches" part that I could never figure out.

                            And I always got:


                            "That's a deep subject, be sure not to fall in..."


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sanda
                              Poor cats seem to figure in a lot of clichés like the one "not enough room to swing a cat". Poor cats.
                              One of my favorites "He/She is running around like a one legged cat trying to bury s*** on a frozen pond"

                              Not sure if this one will make it past the censor but it sure describes some people that I know.



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