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This Story Is 'The Cat's Meow!'

A british shorthair cat named Baileys enjoys a cuddle from owner Irina Etec during the world cat exhibition in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday April 21,2013. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Listen to this story as you read it: Cat Expressions
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Now, the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Cats are the most popular pets among Americans. So it is not surprising that there are many expressions about cats.

Some cats like to catch small birds, like canaries. If someone looks very proud or satisfied with himself, we say he “looks like the cat that ate the canary.”

Sometimes, a cat likes to play with a small animal it catches. So if you “play cat and mouse” with someone, you change between different kinds of behavior when dealing with another person. For example, a child might offer something sweet to her little brother and then take it away when he reaches for it.

A cat will often catch a small animal and present it to its owner. The saying that “looks like something the cat dragged in” describes something in bad condition.

Two old and funny expressions describe something that is the best or finest. Americans might say that something is “the cat’s meow” and “the cat’s pajamas.”

Children might call a child who is easily frightened a “fraidy-cat” or a “scaredy-cat.”

A “copycat” is someone who acts just like someone else or copies another person's work.

A “fat cat” is a person with a lot of money.

You may have known that cats spend most of their time sleeping. Sometimes people sleep for a short time during the day. This is called a “cat nap.”

If you tell about something that was supposed to be a secret, we say you “let the cat out of the bag.” If you are not able to speak or answer a question someone might ask if “the cat has got your tongue.”

Have you ever watched children in a classroom when their teacher leaves for a few minutes? “When the cat’s away, the mice will play” means people sometimes misbehave when there is no supervision.

You may have heard this expression: “curiosity killed the cat.” This means being too concerned about things that are not your business might cause problems.

If your home is very small, you might say “there is not enough room to swing a cat.” But you probably should not try this at home!

If you ever had cats as pets, you know it is difficult to train them or to get them to do something. Cats are not like sheep or cows that can be moved in a group. So we say a difficult or impossible job “is like herding cats.”

We leave you with a song from the musical play "Cats."

This VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories was written by Shelley Gollust. I’m Faith Lapidus.