Scaredy Cat: Meaning & Origins of the Phrase


If you’ve ever seen a cat jump up and scramble all over the place, you have a pretty good idea of how the term “scaredy cat” came to be. But exactly how did “scaredy” become a part of it, considering it’s not a word all on its own?

Well, the truth is that an author coined the term in her book, it took off, and now just about everyone knows the word!

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What Does Scaredy Cat Mean?

If someone calls you a scaredy cat, they’re calling you a coward or, at the very least, saying you’re scared of something you shouldn’t be. Other animals can also be scaredy cats, but it’s something people are called on a regular basis.

scared British blue-point cat hiding under the bed
Image Credit: zossia, Shutterstock

Where Does the Term “Scaredy Cat” Come From?

“Scaredy” is a word that doesn’t exist on its own, but, somehow, when you pair it with “cat,” it becomes a thing! The first known example of the term scaredy cat comes from the book The Waltz by Dorothy Parker.

The book first came out in the New Yorker in 1933, and most people usually give her credit for the term because of this. Another common term that goes hand-in-hand with “scaredy cat” is “fraidy cat,” and you can often hear the two terms used interchangeably.

Where Ms. Parker got the idea is anyone’s guess, but if you’ve ever seen a cat jump up at a sudden noise and disturbance, we think the origins behind the term are pretty clear!

As for the portion “scaredy,” it seems like Ms. Parker used a bit of literacy leniency to come up with the term, and it’s not hard to see how she got there. The “ -y” suffix commonly changes words in the English language “to having the quality of,” so Ms. Parker simply made up the term using “scared” and applied it to the cat.

It wasn’t a real word before, and it still isn’t now, but Mr. Parker liked the word. It fit her book, and it seemed like a pretty good idea!

cat scared of thunderstorm
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

Scaredy Cat Usage Through the Years

“Scaredy cat” still isn’t the most popular phrase out there, but it’s commonly accepted in all sorts of situations. It all started with a single author, and now it’s a common term in books and everyday language.

The word “scaredy” doesn’t seem to be taking a foothold all on its own, but “scaredy cat” and “fraidy cat” aren’t going anywhere any time soon!

divider-catFinal Thoughts

While the English language is always evolving, it’s still surprising to learn that terms like “scaredy cat” are so new, considering how widely accepted it is today. While not many people have heard of the book that coined the term, you can’t find many people who haven’t heard the phrase, even though they have no idea where it came from!


Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

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