cat got your tongue

Definition: asked of somebody who is silent when expected to speak

Example: ‘What’s the matter with you two?” Mom asked her unusually silent children. “Cat got your tongue?”


Wow. This is a hotly debated one. Some sources swear on one origin while others trash that same explanation. Iddy will just give you a list and you can make up your own mind….

  1. In a strange form of capital punishment, ancient Egyptians cut off the tongues of blasphemers and fed them to cats. Really? Is there a shred of truth in there anywhere?
  2. In the Middle Ages, witches’ familiars, including cats, were purported to steal the power of speech from their victims so their crimes couldn’t be reported.
  3. Another myth from the Middle Ages. Cats, attracted by the smell of milk on babies’ breath, would cuddle up to them and smother them to death. Nice, that one.
  4. Now we jump forward in time to the years that the English Navy ruled the waves. A popular form of punishment (not for the crew, I’m sure) was the cat’o’nine tails, a whip made up of nine separate lengths of knotted cotton. It was known simply as ‘the cat’. Now this one theory veers off into two slight variants. One claims that the sailor, after his punishment, was silent. The second claims that if the sailor made any utterance during the lashings, he would get more, so they would grimace silently through the agony.

Is there any truth in any of these? Who knows.

What do you think, Iddy?


What’s the matter, Iddy? Cat got your tongue?


flying colours

Definition: To accomplish something convincingly

Example: Johnny passed his second driving test with flying colours. His first test had not been promising. There were still seven people in hospital.


The phrase ‘with flying colours‘ can be preceded by a number of words; ‘pass‘, ‘come through‘, ‘win‘, etc. All of the combinations mean ‘to succeed‘.

But what are these colours?

They have a naval origin. Ships used flags as a means of communication. Returning to port, victorious naval craft advertised their success with their flags unfurled for all to see. They would be ‘flying their colours‘. In contrast, a defeated ship would come into port with her flags lowered. She would be ‘striking her colours‘.

There are a number of further colour related idioms, all relating to naval flag use:

  1. Nail your colours to your mast‘  Flags fastened in such a way could not be lowered. It means to take a stand and not surrender.
  2.  ‘Under false colours’  This means to deceive and is thought to relate to pirate ships using flags to trick other craft into coming near.
  3. ‘Go down with flying colours’  This is the only negative usage of our original idiom, meaning to fight to the end.

Iddy just wants his paint back. He’s never going to get that dining room redecorated at this rate.


big time

Definition: To be successful

Example: When Ruby’s album of ukulele cover songs sold more than a dozen copies, she knew she had hit the big time.


Big time‘ probably had its origin in late nineteenth century Vaudeville theatre. Performers were rated by popularity. ‘Small time‘ performers were just starting out or at the end of their careers. ‘Big time‘ performers were at the height of their popularity and were the headliners on the bill. These more popular artists spent longer on the stage than their counterparts, so they literally had ‘bigger time’ on stage. Please excuse Iddy’s poor English there. “Longer time’ would be grammatically more acceptable, but wouldn’t explain the situation as clearly.

Iddy’s probably been a bit pre-occupied to worry about his grammar. He’s been wondering how to wind up this particular clock.


snowed under

Definition: having too much to do

Example: Steve would have loved to attend the all night screening of Sex and the City episodes with his wife, but unfortunately he was snowed under at work and wouldn’t be home in time. Poor Steve.


There doesn’t seem  to be any fancy origin for snowed under. It simply describes the feeling of being smothered or crushed by the weight of work. Just like you would under a heavy snowfall. That’s it.

In a little sidebar about snow related terms, the word ‘blizzard’ was around for many years before it had anything to do with snow. It originally meant a sharp blow or a gunshot. No snow in sight. It wasn’t until 1870, when an Ohio newspaper described a particularly bad snowstorm as  a ‘blizzard’, that the word took a right hand turn into a different meaning.