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?

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