What Does Cat Got Your Tongue Mean?

Cat Got Your Tongue Meaning

Definition: Why aren’t you saying anything?

This expression is usually addressed as a question. It suggests that a person can’t talk because a cat is holding his or her tongue and preventing speech.

Origin of Cat Got Your Tongue

This expression originated in the 1800s. However, it is unclear exactly how it developed. There are myths that claim it is related to the cat o’ nine tails (a whip used by sailors). This is unlikely because there is no evidence to support it.

Examples of Cat Got Your Tongue

define cats got your tongueIn this example, two sisters are cleaning out one of their closets.

Amy: Thanks for helping me clean out my closet and get rid of some of my old clothes.

Kimberly: No problem. I’m happy to help!

Amy: I guess I can get rid of this dress and these pants.

Kimberly: Hey! What’s that?

Amy: What?

Kimberly: That sweater behind all your other clothes. Is that my favorite blue sweater that I’ve been missing for months?

Amy: (doesn’t say anything)

Kimberly: Did you steal my sweater?

Amy: (still doesn’t say anything)

Kimberly: What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Tell me why you have my missing sweater in your closet!

cat got your tongueIn the second example, two friends are discussing some art that one of them made.

Keira: This is the painting I’ve been working on for the last year. It is my masterpiece. What do you think of it?

Rory: Oh…

Keira: Yes?

Rory: Um…

Keira: What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue?

Rory: No—It’s just—

Keira: You hate it, don’t you?

More Examples

This is an excerpt about the importance of small talk.

  • They say the country is bitterly divided. Maybe so, but that’s no reason to be rude. My mailman likes to banter and so do the guys at Lloyd’s Automotive and the cabdrivers. So what’s going on with you? Cat got your tongue? Where’d you get that sweater? What’s that product you put on your hair? –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt is from an article about a play. One of the characters uses this idiom on a child who is being quiet.

  • While the script calls for Rigby to step into other roles, her most memorable work is as The Cat. Interacting with the audience, some of her remarks have an off-the-cuff feel, as when she asks a tongue-tied kid, “Cat got your tongue?” –OC Register

Summary

The phrase cat got your tongue is a way to enquire why someone isn’t speaking or to encourage the person to speak.