Cats sauntered into human civilization thousands of years ago, and we’ve been catering to their every whim ever since. They can be stingy with their affection, and tend to be bad gift givers (“a dead bird in my bed — again?”), but we still love and admire our arrogant, aloof, irrepressible feline companions. After so many years of cohabitation, it’s no wonder they’ve infiltrated the way we speak. Here are our nine favorite cat idioms with their equivalents in other languages:
1. To have nine lives like a cat (English)
Meaning: to have a talent for getting out of bad situations
Turkish: dokuz canlı kedi
Translation: cat with nine lives
Italian: Avere sette vite come i gatti
Translation: to have seven lives like a cat
Turkish, English and many Slavic languages assume cats have eight extra, mystical lives. Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese give cats two fewer chances to defy mortality.
2. Retomber comme un chat sur ses pattes (French)
Translation: to land like a cat on his feet
Meaning: to be lucky or successful after being in a difficult situation
3. Cat got your tongue? (English)
Meaning: do you have nothing to say?
French: Donner sa langue au chat
Translation: to give one’s tongue to the cat
Meaning: to give up
Spanish: ¿Se te ha comido la lengua el gato?
Translation: did the cat eat your tongue?
Meaning: why aren’t you talking?
4. Gato escaldado tem medo de água fria (Portuguese)
Translation: a scalded cat fears cold water
Meaning: to be traumatized by a bad experience
5. When the cat’s away, the mice will play (English)
Meaning: when an authority figure is away, those under them enjoy some freedom
Italian: Quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano
Translation: when the cat’s not here, the mice dance
German: Wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch
Translation: when the cat’s out of the house, the mice dance on the table
Croatian: Kad mačke nema, miševi vode kolo
Translation: when the cat’s gone, the mice lead the kolo
Meaning: when the boss is away, someone under them calls the shots
The kolo is a traditional Balkan dance popular at weddings and other social gatherings. It involves a large group of people dancing in a circle while holding hands. One person tends to lead the dance.
6. नौ सौ चूहे खाके बिल्ली हज को चली (Nau Sau Choohey Khakar Billi Hajj Ko Chali) (Hindi)
Translation: after eating 900 rats, the cat goes on a pilgrimage
Meaning: to veil a lifetime of wrongdoing with a few token expressions of virtue later in life
7. Nu arunca pisica în curtea altuia (Romanian)
Translation: don’t throw the cat in someone else’s yard
Meaning: don’t blame someone else
8. All cats are grey in the dark (English)
Meaning: the differences don’t really matter
Swedish: Om natten är alla katter grå
Translation: at night, all cats are grey
Portuguese: À noite, todos os gatos são pardos
Translation: at night, all cats are brown
9. Avoir un chat dans la gorge (French)
Translation: to have a cat in the throat
Meaning: to have a phlegmy, hoarse throat
BONUS: There’s more than one way to skin a cat (English)
Meaning: there are many different ways to solve a problem