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The meaning and origin of the expression: Cat burglar

Cat burglar

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Cat burglar'?

A 'Cat burglar' is a burglar who enters buildings by extraordinarily skilful feats of climbing.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Cat burglar'?

Cat burglarThe phrase 'Cat burglar' was first used to describe a particular individual burglar who operated Streatham, London in the early years of the 20th century.

The London Daily News ran this story in April 1907:

Known, on account of his climbing ability, as the "Cat Burglar," Arthur Edward Young pleaded guilty at Newington Sessions yesterday to several acts of burglary in Streatham. The only burglar's implement in his possession was a small table knife useful for pushing back window catches.

The term cat burglar almost immediately crossed the Atlantic courtesy of the rewriting of the story in The Washington Post, May 1907:

"The cat burglar" is the newest aspirant for criminal notoriety. He is Arthur Edward Young, twenty three, and it is his cleverness at climbing that won for him the sobriquet. "The cat burglar" is caged in Worms Scrubs gaol. [By which they must have meant Wormwood Scrubs jail.]

It's fairly certain that Young was the first person to be called a cat burglar. He is mentioned in the above stories not as 'a cat burglar' but 'the cat burglar' - there being no others at the time.

Searches for the term 'cat burglar' turn up only a few hits prior to 1907 and these are all to stories of people who have stolen a cat or of a cat itself being found to be the culprit when something had gone missing.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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