What are some cat phrases?
30 words and phrases from the 1920s that are ‘cat’s pajamas’
It’s been a hundred years since these words were part of the everyday American lexicon. Do any of these old sayings deserve a closer look in modern times?
By Laura Hale Brockway
March 25, 2021
Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.
Never underestimate the power of words to communicate culture and define the spirit of the age. In 2020, the words “pandemic,” “lockdown,” “COVID,” “remote,” “anti-masker,” “unprecedented” and “unmute” were all chosen as “meaningful terms” or as “word[s] of the year.”
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To further explore how words can capture and transmit the ideas and beliefs of the time, let’s take a look at the 1920s in words. One hundred years ago, you might have overheard these expressions in a café or while riding the bus. (Definitions from Merriam-Webster, Wordnik, Dictionary.com, and Wikipedia.)
1. Bees knees — someone or something splendid or stylish; admirable (also, cat’s meow); a cocktail with gin, lemon and honey that dates back to the Prohibition era.
2. To be on the nut — to be without money; broke
3. Bimbo — a brutish, unintelligent man; a bully
4. Cat’s pajamas — a term of endearment
5. Clam — a dollar or a buck
6. Dewdropper — a lazy, unemployed man
7. Ducky — all right, fine, good
8. Flat tire — a disappointing date
9. Giggle water — alcohol
10. Glad rags — party clothes
11. Handcuff — a wedding or engagement ring
12. Have the bees — to have money, to be rich
13. Heeled — carrying a gun
14. Hotsy totsy — comfortable; stable or secure
15. Icy mitt — rejection from one’s boyfriend or girlfriend
16. Jake — satisfactory or cool
17. Jalopy — an old, run-down automobile; a clunker
18. Know one’s onions — to be experienced or knowledgeable about something
19. Large — slang for $1,000 (“10 large” would be $10,000)
20. Mouthpiece — a lawyer, especially a criminal lawyer
21. Now you’re on the trolly — to understand or catch on
22. Oil can — a naïve or unsophisticated person
23. Out on the roof — to be drunk; to drink in excess
24. Quilt — an alcoholic drink that keeps you warm
25. Sawbuck — a 10-dollar bill
26. Skate around — to be of easy virtue
27. Soak — to pawn
28. Sob sister — a writer or journalist who specializes in emotional or sentimental articles
29. Two bits — 25 cents
30. Wet blanket — someone who ruins other people’s fun; a drag
Have any other phrases from the 1920s? Please add them in the comment section.
Laura Hale Brockway is a writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her posts on PR Daily and at impertinentremarks.com.
2 Responses to “30 words and phrases from the 1920s that are ‘cat’s pajamas’”
- Nancy Perez says: April 28, 2022 at 10:50 pm
Scared the Dickens out of me. Dickens
The cat’s meow!
Cat In French – Complete Guide To Talk About Your Cat
For all the animal lovers out there, learning how to say cat in French will definitely be an important addition to your vocabulary. There are a few important things to know about the word cat in French.
And that includes one mistake involving the word that you do not want to make. I know some people who have had some pretty awkward encounters because of it.
But, besides learning the thing you should avoid regarding the word cat in French, you’ll also learn some facts you’ll want to dive right into. We’ll talk about slang words for cat in French, cat-related French idioms, and all the cat-related vocabulary you need for cat-filled French life.
How to Say Cat in French
Before we get too excited about all there is to learn about cat in French, let’s learn how to say the actual word itself. In French, cat is chat.
As an English speaker, you might look at that word and want to pronounce cat in French the same as a “chat” you might have with coworkers during lunchtime.
But in French, the “ch” sound is pronounced, “sh.” Then, the “at” sound is pronounced like “ah,” so the pronunciation of chat in French sounds more like “sh-ah.”
Female Cat vs. Male Cat in French
But, there is something important to remember regarding the pronunciation of chat and it has to do with its gender. Like many French animal nouns, the word chat has male and female versions—which are both pronounced differently.
In this case, chat is actually the masculine form for cat and chatte is the feminine. Chatte is pronounced with a hard “t” at the end so it sounds like “sh-at.”
An Embarrassing Mistake With Cat in French
But there is something important to know about the French word, chatte.
Over time, the feminine word for cat has come to mean something completely different than its original meaning. While technically chatte does mean female chat, its more common meaning is a vulgar way to say “vagina.”
Some of the older generations will still use the word chatte to refer to a female chat, but younger French speakers will usually steer clear unless using it in the vulgar way.
If you need to share the sex of your cat in French, you could just say:
- Mon chat s’appelle Sushi. C’est une femelle. My cat’s name is Sushi. She’s a girl.
While chatte is still used to refer to a female chat in certain circumstances, I would just stick to chat to play it safe.
Other French Translations of Cat in French
Besides chat and chatte, you might see some other translations of the word cat in the French-speaking world. Here are a few examples:
- Félin/félidé – feline
- Matou – tomcat (unneutered male cat)
- Chat gouttière – alley cat
- Kazh – cat in Breton
Slang Words for Cat in French
While there are quite a few other translations of cat in French, there are also a few slang words to know about. So, here are some of the most common slang words to talk about these adorable furballs:
Minet – pussycat, kitty. This is a pretty old word so you’ll likely hear it used more by the older French people. This generation might also use the word as a term of endearment or as an offensive way to say homosexual so I would avoid throwing it around.
Minou – pussycat, kitty cat, kitty. This is similar to the French word toutou, which is a word for dog in French used by children. This word is mostly used to talk about little, cute cats.
It’s also another vulgar slang word, but if you’re talking about a cat, you can use the word minou without being worried about offending anyone.
Idioms That Use the Word “Cat” in French
As with most languages, French contains many informal words, expressions, and phrases that have a different meaning than the typical meaning of the words used. This is not only true for slang words, but also for idiomatic expressions.
So here are a few idiomatic expressions containing the word cat in French that are important to know.
In these phrases, the word cat might not directly translate to “cat” since the translation is idiomatic. If you’re still confused, don’t worry, we’re going to look at a few of these cat-related idiomatic expressions together.
Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide.
- Direct translation: A warmed-up cat is afraid of cold water.
- Meaning: Once bitten, twice shy.
Retomber comme un chat sur ses pattes.
- Direct translation: To land like a cat on its paws.
- Meaning: To land on one’s feet.
Appeler un chat un chat
- Direct translation: To call a cat a cat.
- Meaning: To tell it like it is.
Coûter le lard du chat
Direct translation: To cost the fat of a cat.
Meaning: To be very expensive.
Passer comme un chat sur la braise
- Direct translation: To pass like a cat on embers.
- Meaning: To pass quickly or take off at full throttle.
Quand le chat n’est pas là les souris danse
- Direct translation: When the cat isn’t there, the mice dance.
- Meaning: While the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter.
- Direct translation: To have other cats to whip.
- Meaning: To have bigger fish to fry.
Il ne faut pas réveiller le chat qui dort
- Direct translation: You shouldn’t wake the cat who sleeps.
- Meaning: Let sleeping dogs lie.
Faire une toilette de chat.
- Direct translation: To do the cat’s washing up.
- Meaning: To clean yourself/wash up very quickly.
Donner sa langue au chat.
- Direct translation: To give one’s tongue to the cat.
- Meaning: To give up on a thought you’re having, as in you’re trying to think of something and it’s not coming to you so you give up trying to think about it.
Common English Idioms That Use the Word “Cat” and Their Translations in French
Of course, now that we’ve talked a little about French idioms that contain the word chat, we need to talk about English idioms that use the word cat. Just like how chat doesn’t always translate to “cat” when within French idioms, we’re going to take a look at how cat doesn’t always translate to chat when within English idioms.
For example, if you look at the word “cat” within the English Idiom “curiosity killed the cat,” it doesn’t translate to chat since the phrase doesn’t translate literally.
But let’s look at a few more.
How to Say “Curiosity Killed the Cat” in French
- French version: La curiosité est un vilain défaut.
- Direct Translation: Curiosity is a dreadful flaw.
How to Say “Cat’s Got your Tongue” in French
- French version: Tu as perdu ta langue ?
- Direct Translation: Did you lose your tongue?
How to Say “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs” in French
- French version: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse
- Direct Translation: It’s raining like a cow who’s pissing
Key Cat-Related Phrases in French
Finally, you know everything about using the word cat in French—from the good, the bad, and the downright adorable. But now we’re going to get started on everything you’ll need to interact with a cat in France or even have one of your own!
How to Say “I have a cat” in French
How to Say “I love my cat” in French
How to Say “Cat lady” in French
- Une dame aux chats.
How to Say “Cat Sitter” in French
- Une personne qui vient s’occuper du chat.
Common Cat-Related Words in French
- Ronronnement – purring
- Miaulement – meowing
- La Litière – litter box/litter
- Un Chaton – kitten
- Un collier pour chat – cat collar
- Grattoir/Griffoire pour chat – cat scratcher
- Nourriture pour chat – cat food
- Une patte – paw
- Les moustaches – whiskers
- Un chat tricolore – calico cat
- Un chat domestique – domestic cat/house cat
- Un chat tigré – tabby cat
- Un chat noir – black cat
French Animal Sounds: What Does a Cat Say in French?
Something we often forget about when learning a new language is the sounds their animals make. Since many languages have different sounds from one another (for example the French don’t have the sound “th”), it makes sense why we don’t all mimic the sounds our animals make in the same way.
For example, in English, a bird says “Chirp, chirp,” while in French it says, “Cui, cui.”
For cats, the French say “miaou,” which is almost exactly how we pronounce it in English. It’s pronounced with a little French accent, but you can hear its almost identical pronunciation in this French children’s song, Miaou, Miaou, la Nuit Dernière.
French Cat Names + The Unique French Cat-Naming Tradition
Earlier we talked about how to talk about cats in French, cat-related vocabulary, and even cat slang words. So now you have everything you need to have a cat in France besides its name.
Therefore, let’s dive into some cute French cat names. In English, we have popular cat names like “Luna” and “Milo.” Here are the most popular French cat names:
Interestingly, there is actually a particular tradition with naming your cat in French. Back in 1926, the Société Centrale Canine, or Central Canine Society, decided to make a rule that all dogs born in the same year would have a name that started with the same letter.
This was because they kept the names of certain dogs in a book called the LOF (Livre des origines Français) and they thought the rule would add some order to the list of dog names in there. Eventually, more animals were added to this rule–including cats.
Now it’s less of a rule and just a way to more easily think of your new pet’s name. Interestingly, letters “K”, “Q”, “W”, “X”, “Y,” and “Z” are skipped over because it’s more difficult to find names that begin with them.
However, if you do want to choose a name that starts with these letters, you can do so during the year with the letter that comes right before it.
For example, in 2022, the letter of the year is T, which means French cat owners could choose names like Topaze, Tigri or Timinou. This isn’t a requirement, but you’ll find a lot of French families who do so.
- French animal vocabulary
- French dog vocabulary and phrases
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