10 Cat Idioms From 11 Different Languages

Humans and cats have lived side by side for so long, they’ve managed to creep their way into our language.
Cat idioms in different languages represented by a cat laying on a pillow with one paw stretched in front of it.

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 10 favorite cat idioms with their equivalents in other languages.

10 Fabulous Feline Expressions From Around The World

1. To have nine lives like a cat (English)

Meaning: to have a talent for getting out of bad situations

Turkish: Dokuz canlı kedi
Literal Translation:
Cat with nine lives

Italian: Avere sette vite come i gatti
To have seven lives like a cat

Note: 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)

Literal 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?
Did the cat eat your tongue?
Meaning: Why aren’t you talking?

4. Gato escaldado tem medo de água fria (Portuguese)

Literal 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
When the cat’s not here, the mice dance

German: Wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch
When the cat’s out of the house, the mice dance on the table

Croatian: Kad mačke nema, miševi vode kolo
When the cat’s gone, the mice lead the kolo
Meaning: When the boss is away, someone under them calls the shots

Note: 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)

Literal 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)

Literal 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
Literal Translation:
At night, all cats are grey

Portuguese: À noite, todos os gatos são pardos
Literal 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

10. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (English)

Meaning: There are many different ways to solve a problem

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