Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
In the last post Important Idioms and Phrases for CAT and other exams, we looked at some important idioms and phrases for CAT and other exams. Again, knowing this will not suddenly put you on track to ace the verbal section, but where it will help is you may spend fewer seconds trying to understand what a particular sentence means.
What better way to take this forward than by talking about cats. It is not just now that cats are popular – viral cat videos and GIFs I’m looking at you. Even years ago, cats were popular and perhaps this is why we quite a few idioms around cats.
Bell the cat – It means to undertake or agree to perform a risky, dangerous, or impossible job or task.
It probably comes from a story in which a group of mice decide that they will tie a bell to a murderous cat so that its jingle will warn them of its presence. But then no one wants to take on the dangerous role of belling the cat.
For e.g. Someone has to bell the cat and tell the boss we aren’t going to come in to work on Saturdays anymore.
Also, I am sure you have noticed the wordplay associated with ‘Belling the CAT’ where the sense of cat is used to mean the CAT exam.
Set the cat among the pigeons – If you leave a cat with pigeons, it will chase them and try to kill them. (Something like how Sylvester loves the Tweety bird – for those who have had their fair share of cartoon viewing)
The bottomline is if you do something suddenly or unexpectedly which leaves the people worried or angry it is said that you set the cat among the pigeons. For e.g. When Wipro announced layoffs it set the cat among the pigeons.
Other forms of usage include ‘Put the cat among the pigeons’ or ‘to throw the cat among the pigeons’
Fight like cats and dogs – If you have seen how dogs and cats fight each other, you know what this idiom means. Dogs love to annoy cats and cats love to annoy dogs. This ends up being a brutal fight.
So when someone fights and is angry all the time and pick silly fights and pursue them ferociously, we say they fight like cats and dogs. For e.g. The candidates fought like cats and dogs to win the fight and get themselves declared as the party’s CM candidate before the start of the election campaign.
Raining cats and dogs – This means it is raining heavily. But why does raining cats and dogs means heavy rain? The story behind this one is a sad one. In the earlier years, a lot of cats and dogs would be blown away during heavy rainfall accompanied by strong winds and end up on rooftops. Hence the idiom. For e.g. No way we are going to Kerala in July, it’d be raining cats and dogs.
Play cat and mouse with – Again, this time it’s not with dogs but with mice that we pair cats and use them in our idiom. The most famous cat and mouse pair of all times – Tom and Jerry. Do you remember how Tom is after Jerry all the time and Jerry annoys Tom just to fool around? When you are coy and evasive with someone, you play cat and mouse with them. For e.g. I know what you are up to. Don’t play cat and mouse with me!
The most famous cat and mouse pair of all times – Tom and Jerry. Do you remember how Tom is after Jerry all the time and Jerry annoys Tom just to fool around? When you are coy and evasive with someone, you play cat and mouse with them. For e.g. I know what you are up to. Don’t play cat and mouse with me!
Let the cat out of the bag – This idiom means to reveal a secret or disclose facts that were previously hidden. It can also be used to refer to someone who is a “blabbermouth” or someone who just cannot keep secrets. For e.g. I was trying to keep the party a secret, but Nita went and let the cat out of the bag.
This idiom probably comes from the story of merchants selling piglets in huge markets. They would put the piglets in a bag and sell them telling the buyer not to open the bag lest the piglet jumps out of the bag. The buyer would open the bag later after reaching home and find a cat instead of the pig. Thus the merchant would have cheated the buyer and it would be a shock (or surprise) that this happened.
But this story seems a bit far-fetched – after all you’d know the difference while carrying a cat instead of a piglet – if not the weight, the sounds of cats and jumping around the bags would give it away. But then, these stories are supposed to work this way – mostly improbable but interesting.
Curiosity killed the cat – If you have had cats as pets, you’d know that they are mostly lazy. But when they are hungry, they will go to every corner of the house and fetch for something to eat. In this process, they sometimes have bad experiences with the vacuum cleaner.
So when being curious can get you into trouble, this idiom is used. It is also often used to warn someone against prying into other’s affairs. For e.g. When he started asking too many questions of his neighbors about their whereabouts during the weekend, they warned him that curiosity killed the cat.
Like a cat on a hot tin roof – Earlier the houses had tin roofs. During summers or hot afternoons, if a cat accidentally jumped on the roof, it would hop around the heated roof. Similarly, if someone is nervous and unable to keep still, you say they are like a cat on a hot tin roof. E.g. What’s the matter with her? She’s like a cat on a hot tin roof this morning.
No room to swing a cat – The only thing I feel wrong here is actually swinging a cat in a room. I am sure the cat will feel dizzy. But if you want to tell someone how their room or office is very small, you can tell them that there is no room to swing a cat. This is not hard to imagine if you cannot even swing a cat in a room (literally that is, although it’d be really cruel to do so), then the room probably is really small.
For. e.g Their living room was very small. There wasn’t enough room to swing a cat. Another example – “How can you work in a small room like this? There’s not enough room to swing a cat.”
Has the cat got your tongue? – Do you know what a cat does for self-defense, it will strike with its paws and launch an aggressive attack.
If you are really angry and are talking to someone, you expect them to reply and justify their actions. If they don’t you can always ask “Has the cat got your tongue?” It can also be used when someone is unaccountably or unusually quiet, as in “We haven’t heard from you all morning. Has the cat got your tongue?”
Often put as a question, this term originally was used mainly with a child who did something wrong and refused to answer any questions.
So that’s it for now. These could be useful in the understanding sentences and passages better and can also be used in conversations. Apart from being fun to use, it will help with the retention of these new phrases for use later.