cat


cat
cat O.E. catt (c.700), from West Germanic (c.400-450), from P.Gmc. *kattuz (Cf. O.Fris. katte, O.N. köttr, Du. kat, O.H.G. kazza, Ger. Katze), from L.L. cattus (also the source of Gael. cat, Welsh kath, Bret. kaz, It. gatto, Sp. gato, Fr. chat). The near-universal European word now, it appeared in Europe as L. catta (Martial, c.75 C.E.), Byzantine Gk. katta (c.350) and was in general use on the continent by c.700, replacing Latin feles. Probably ultimately Afro-Asiatic (Cf. Nubian kadis, Berber kadiska, both meaning "cat"). Arabic qitt "tomcat" may be from the same source.
Cats were domestic in Egypt from c.2000 B.C.E., but not a familiar household animal to classical Greeks and Romans. The nine lives have been proverbial since at least 1560s. Extended to lions, tigers, etc. c.1600. As a term of contempt for a woman, from early 13c. Slang sense of "prostitute" is from at least c.1400. Slang sense of "fellow, guy," is from 1920, originally in U.S. Black Eng.; narrower sense of "jazz enthusiast" is recorded from 1931. Cat's paw (1769, but cat's foot in the same sense, 1590s) refers to old folk tale in which the monkey tricks the cat into pawing chestnuts from a fire; the monkey gets the nuts, the cat gets a burnt paw. Cat bath "hurried or partial cleaning" is from 1953. Cat-witted "small-minded, obstinate, and spiteful" (1670s) deserved to survive. For Cat's meow, cat's pajamas, see BEE'S KNEES (Cf. bee's knees).

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

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