Cat Got Your Tongue – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

I’m sure you’ve come across the phrase cat got your tongue at least once in your life, right? It’s a classic in the English idiom repertoire, with a pretty amusing origin story, if I say so myself. So, sit back, relax, and let’s unravel this idiom for a second.

Is Cat Got Your Tongue a Metaphor or Idiom?

Well, unless a feline has actually latched onto your tongue (which would be an entirely different predicament), cat got your tongue is an idiom. It’s a figurative expression that doesn’t literally mean what it says.

Cat Got Your Tongue Meaning Explained

Cat Got Your Tongue Idiom Origin Meaning

So, what does it mean when someone asks if the cat has got your tongue? It’s typically used to question someone’s silence or when they can’t respond to a question or situation. I’ve also seen it used when someone mutters a response under their breath. Basically, it’s an inquiry into why someone is being uncharacteristically quiet.

As a kid, I was fairly quiet, so I heard this phrase more than once. I never understood what it actually meant until I was older. It did conjure up some weird images, though!

Cat Got Your Tongue Origin and Etymology

Cat Got Your Tongue Ngram
Cat got your tongue usage trend.

As amusing as the phrase cat got your tongue is, its origins aren’t as clearly defined. One theory suggests that it comes from the Middle Ages when liars and blasphemers had their whole tongues cut out and then fed to the king’s cats (yikes!).

Another theory relates it to the cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip used by the English Royal Navy that caused such pain that it left victims speechless. But neither theory is substantiated by historical evidence, so it’s more likely that this idiom arose from pure creativity and love for cats!

Synonyms for Cat Got Your Tongue

Stumped for similar phrases? Check out these synonyms you can use.

  • Lost for words
  • Tongue-tied
  • Speechless
  • At a loss for words
  • Mute
  • Mum

These are all just as commonly used as cat got your tongue and still hold the same, or similar, meaning.

Using Cat Got Your Tongue: Examples in a Sentence

Cat Got Your Tongue Idiom Origin Meaning 1

Let’s look at some examples of cat got your tongue in use, shall we?

  • You’ve been unusually quiet tonight. Cat got your tongue?
  • He was left speechless by her question, and she teased, “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”
  • When asked about his future plans, Jerry didn’t respond, making me wonder if the cat had his tongue.
  • You’ve been sitting in silence for the last ten minutes. Has the cat got your tongue?
  • The teacher asked if the cat had got my tongue when I failed to answer the question.
  • The sight was so shocking that it left me tongue-tied, or should I say, the cat got my tongue.
  • The cat always has my tongue whenever my crush comes around.

One Last Purr on This Idiomatic Phrase

And that’s everything you need to know about cat got your tongue. Cats might be mysterious creatures, but English idioms don’t have to be! So next time you’re left speechless, you know exactly which idiom to use. Stick around for more exciting etymological deep dives.