bell the cat, to attempt something formidable or dangerous.
    let the cat out of the bag, to divulge a secret, especially inadvertently or carelessly: He let the cat out of the bag, and the surprise party wasn't a surprise after all.

Origin of cat

before 900; Middle English cat, catte, Old English catt (masculine), catte (feminine); cognate with Old Frisian, Middle Dutch katte, Old High German kazza, Old Norse kǫttr, Irish cat, Welsh cath (Slavic *kotŭ, Lithuanian katė̃ perhaps < Gmc), Late Latin cattus, catta (first attested in the 4th century, presumably with the introduction of domestic cats); ultimately origin obscure




a Caterpillar tractor.


clear-air turbulence.
Medicine/Medical. computerized axial tomography.
Compare CAT scanner.


a prefix meaning “down,” “against,” “back,” occurring originally in loanwords from Greek (cataclysm; catalog; catalepsy); on this model, used in the formation of other compound words (catagenesis; cataphyll).
Also especially before a vowel, cat-; cath-, kata-.

Origin of cata-

< Greek kata-, combining form of katá down, through, against, according to, towards, during


catalog; catalogue. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cat

Contemporary Examples of cat

Historical Examples of cat

  • Their cat came over the garden wall and bit off the blades of the irises.

  • Some of the dignity of his retreat was lost by the fact that the cat followed him, close at his heels.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Reminds me of a cat'mount I tried to tame once, only he's twice as ugly.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • He stroked the cat, poked the fire, had his lunch served to him there.

    The Secret Agent

    Joseph Conrad

  • An elderly lady whom you do not happen to like; sometimes called, also, a hen, or cat.

British Dictionary definitions for cat




Also called: domestic cat a small domesticated feline mammal, Felis catus (or domesticus), having thick soft fur and occurring in many breeds in which the colour of the fur varies greatly: kept as a pet or to catch rats and mice
Also called: big cat any of the larger felines, such as a lion or tiger
any wild feline mammal of the genus Felis, such as the lynx or serval, resembling the domestic catRelated adjective: feline
old-fashioned a woman who gossips maliciously
slang a man; guy
nautical a heavy tackle for hoisting an anchor to the cathead
a short sharp-ended piece of wood used in the game of tipcat
short for catboat
informal short for Caterpillar
a bag of cats Irish informal a bad-tempered personshe's a real bag of cats this morning
fight like Kilkenny cats to fight until both parties are destroyed
let the cat out of the bag to disclose a secret, often by mistake
like a cat on a hot tin roof or like a cat on hot bricks in an uneasy or agitated state
like cat and dog quarrelling savagely
look like something the cat brought in to appear dishevelled or bedraggled
not a cat in hell's chance no chance at all
not have room to swing a cat to have very little space
play cat and mouse to play with a person or animal in a cruel or teasing way, esp before a final act of cruelty or unkindness
put the cat among the pigeons to introduce some violently disturbing new element
rain cats and dogs to rain very heavily

verb cats, catting or catted

(tr) to flog with a cat-o'-nine-tails
(tr) nautical to hoist (an anchor) to the cathead
(intr) a slang word for vomit
Derived Formscatlike, adjectivecattish, adjective

Word Origin for cat

Old English catte, from Latin cattus; related to Old Norse köttr, Old High German kazza, Old French chat, Russian kot




informal short for catamaran (def. 1)




  1. short for catalytic converter
  2. (as modifier)a cat car


short for catalytic a cat cracker


abbreviation for

computer-aided teaching
computer-assisted trading


abbreviation for



kata-, before an aspirate cath- or before a vowel cat-


down; downwards; lower in positioncatadromous; cataphyll
indicating reversal, opposition, degeneration, etccataplasia; catatonia

Word Origin for cata-

from Greek kata-, from kata. In compound words borrowed from Greek, kata- means: down (catabolism), away, off (catalectic), against (category), according to (catholic), and thoroughly (catalogue)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cat

Old English catt (c.700), from West Germanic (c.400-450), from Proto-Germanic *kattuz (cf. Old Frisian katte, Old Norse köttr, Dutch kat, Old High German kazza, German Katze), from Late Latin cattus.

The near-universal European word now, it appeared in Europe as Latin catta (Martial, c.75 C.E.), Byzantine Greek katta (c.350) and was in general use on the continent by c.700, replacing Latin feles. Probably ultimately Afro-Asiatic (cf. Nubian kadis, Berber kadiska, both meaning "cat"). Arabic qitt "tomcat" may be from the same source. Cats were domestic in Egypt from c.2000 B.C.E., but not a familiar household animal to classical Greeks and Romans. The nine lives have been proverbial since at least 1560s.

The Late Latin word also is the source of Old Irish and Gaelic cat, Welsh kath, Breton kaz, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, French chat (12c.). Independent, but ultimately from the same source are words in the Slavic group: Old Church Slavonic kotuka, kotel'a, Bulgarian kotka, Russian koška, Polish kot, along with Lithuanian kate and non-Indo-European Finnish katti, which is from Lithuanian.

Extended to lions, tigers, etc. c.1600. As a term of contempt for a woman, from early 13c. Slang sense of "prostitute" is from at least c.1400. Slang sense of "fellow, guy," is from 1920, originally in U.S. Black English; narrower sense of "jazz enthusiast" is recorded from 1931.

Cat's paw (1769, but cat's foot in the same sense, 1590s) refers to old folk tale in which the monkey tricks the cat into pawing chestnuts from a fire; the monkey gets the nuts, the cat gets a burnt paw. Cat bath "hurried or partial cleaning" is from 1953. Cat burglar is from 1907, so called for stealth. Cat-witted "small-minded, obstinate, and spiteful" (1670s) deserved to survive. For Cat's meow, cat's pajamas, see bee's knees.


1975, medical acronym for computerized axial tomography or something like it. Related: CAT scan.


word-forming element from Latinized form of Greek kata-, before vowels kat-, from kata "down from, down to." Its principal sense is "down," but occasionally it has senses of "against" (catapult)or "wrongly" (catachresis). Also sometimes used as an intensive or with a sense of completion of action (catalogue). Very active in ancient Greek, this prefix is found in English mostly in words borrowed through Latin after c.1500.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

cat in Medicine



computerized axial tomography



Reverse; backward; degenerative:cataplasia.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with cat


In addition to the idioms beginning with cat

  • cat got one's tongue

also see:

  • alley cat
  • bell the cat
  • curiosity killed the cat
  • fat cat
  • grin like a Cheshire cat
  • let the cat out of the bag
  • like a cat on a hot brick
  • look like something the cat dragged in
  • look like the cat that ate the canary
  • more than one way to skin a cat
  • not enough room to swing a cat
  • play cat and mouse
  • rain cats and dogs
  • when the cat's away
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.