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Scaredy Cat Meaning: Examples & History of the Phrase

Written by: Codee Chessher

Last Updated on February 29, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cat Tail Puff Angry Scared_

Scaredy Cat Meaning: Examples & History of the Phrase

When someone’s acting timid or easily afraid, we sometimes call them “scaredy cats.” Most people know the phrase and when to use it, but not its origins. Written records of the term “scaredy cat” go back to the late 1800s or early 1900s, depending on who you ask.

“Fraidy-cat” seems to come a little earlier and was used in an 1897 newspaper article by The Chronicle. It morphed when it popped up again in the short-lived comic strip Billy Bounce—the author described the protagonist as a scaredy cat.

Author Dorothy Parker helped popularize the term “scaredy cat” in her book The Waltz, published in 1933. The phrase only skyrocketed from there, and now it’s ingrained in the public consciousness just like other animal-related metaphors.

Simply put, a scaredy cat is skittish, timid, or flighty. You’re never sure how they’ll react to an unfamiliar situation or stress, but running away is common. An aversion to taking risks could also make you a scaredy cat. You could even call a cat a scaredy cat when they’re acting scared.

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Why Cats?

The inspiration behind this phrase is fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever accidentally startled a cat. They can be very skittish, especially feral cats unused to humans, and when they’re on the prowl, they are easily startled into running away. This translates well to a flighty, timid human, so the phrase makes sense.

Humans have used animals to describe human behavior and the weather for centuries. Does the phrase “raining cats and dogs” ring a bell for anyone? We also tend to add -y onto words, which completely changes their meaning. In the case of “scaredy,” it means the cat has fearful qualities.

feral calico cat
Photo Credit: Twinschoice, Shutterstock

3 cat face dividerOther Cat-Related Phrases

Cats have accompanied us for thousands of years, and it only makes sense that they’d leave their mark on language. Colorful phrases using cats are common across languages, and English has a few. Let’s look at some other cat-related metaphors most people are familiar with.

Cat-related phrases include:
  • Let the cat out of the bag: This phrase means to blab, tattletale, or otherwise disclose a secret.
  • Curiosity killed the cat: Used to urge caution about being nosy or overly inquisitive.
  • Raining cats and dogs: Phrase describing a torrential downpour or bad storm.
  • Cat got your tongue: A cheeky way to tease someone being shy.
  • Cat and mouse: Used to describe a back-and-forth game of chase.
  • Copycat: Term used to describe someone who copies someone else.
  • Like herding cats: Colorful way to express frustration about coordinating or managing difficult people.

Other Phrases/Terms About Fear

“Scaredy cat” isn’t the only way we describe fear. As one of the most primal emotions, humans have come up with several idioms that poke fun and explain the feeling. Let’s check out some other colloquial phrases related to being afraid. These include:

  • Afraid of their own shadow
  • Heebie-jeebies
  • Scared out of your wits
  • Like a deer in headlights
british shorthair cat having Arched Back
Photo Credit: Piqsels

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Cats have been with us as far back as ancient Egypt, and phrases like “scaredy cat” are some of the ways they’ve made an impact on humans. Some cats are more skittish than others, while others are braver and less suited to be called a scaredy cat.

Featured Photo Credit: YuryKara, Shutterstock

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