Posted by Bruce Kahl on February 25, 2000
In Reply to: Cat got your tongue posted by joel on February 25, 2000
To say that "the cat has got" someone's tongue is, of course, to say that the person is temporarily rendered speechless by either shock or embarrassment. It is almost always phrased as a question ("Has the cat got your tongue?") by someone who has the upper hand in the conversation, and is generally considered more refined than the alternative, "So say something, bozo."
There's no particular logic to "cat got your tongue," except that cats have served as the object of human myth and metaphor for thousands of years. No sooner did the first caveperson open the door to a yowling cat than people began concocting stories about cats.
Raining Cats and Dogs
No Room to Swing a Cat
The black ones bring bad luck. They have nine lives. They suck out your breath while you're sleeping. They make those mysterious long distance calls that show up on your phone bill.
The most surprising thing about "cat got your tongue" may be its relatively recent vintage. While it certainly sounds as if it must have been dreamt up back in the Middle Ages, the earliest written example listed in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1911.