Cat Got Your Tongue – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you ever lost word to speak? Have you ever been shocked to the point that you cannot speak? Maybe someone asked you a question for which you have no reasonable response?

If so, the phrase "cat got your tongue” perfectly describes your situation. This common phrase is used when someone is unable to speak.

This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The phrase is a common idiom for when someone has lost the ability to speak, but it's also used to describe an inability to talk about a specific topic. When someone is not able to or refuses to give a response, it is said that the cat has their tongue.

The act of being very quiet outside of one’s normal personality also falls in line with the phrase.

It can also mean that a person is afraid to speak due to fear of punishment or social disgrace. It can also mean an unwillingness to speak for various reasons.

Example Usage

  • Have you broken the vase, "Don't you have anything to say? Has the cat got your tongue?
  • Why are you quiet today, Mike. What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?
  • I can't tell my parents about my new job. I feel like the cat got my tongue.


The phrase is thought to have originated in the medieval era. At that time, the cat’s tail whip was used as a form of torture.

Sailors who were not behaving properly were threatened with lashing from the cat’s tale whip.

The same tool was used to punish those who spread falsehoods or those who divulged secrets.

Over time, the phrase turned into a form of slang that meant a person is afraid to speak, or tell the truth.

The phrase is also found in many other languages with similar meanings. For example, in French, the phrase is "chatte a ton tour", which means "it's your turn to be quiet".

The phrase has been around for a long time, and its meaning has changed.

Today, it is most commonly used to describe someone unable to speak because they are nervous or scared.

Phrases Similar to Cat got your tongue.

  • "Tongue-tied", which means the same thing. It is often used to describe someone who is nervous or shy and has difficulty speaking. This phrase comes from the idea that if your tongue is tied, you can't speak.
  • "To bite (one's) tongue" means stopping oneself from saying something. This phrase comes from the idea that if you bite your tongue, you won't be able to speak.
  • “Hold (one’s) tongue” means the same thing as "to bite (one's) tongue."

Phrases opposite to Cat got your tongue.

  • “Sharp Tongue” means the habit of speaking harshly to others.
  • “Roll of the Tongue” fluent verbal expression.
  • “Speak with a forked “means speaking deceptively.
  • “Loose Tongue” means to speak without thinking first.
  • "Cutting Tongue" means to speak in a way that hurts others' feelings.
  • “Vicious Tongue” means to speak with the intent to harm someone.

What is The Correct Saying?

  • The correct say for the word is "Has the cat got your tongue?” The shortened version is "Cat got your tongue?"

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Cat got your tongue.

People often confuse the "What's the matter" phrase, which means what the problem is, instead of with the "Cat has got your tongue" phrase.

The former is a question seeking an explanation for someone's strange behavior, while the latter is an accusation that the person is deliberately not speaking.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Cat got your tongue.

  • Has a cat got your tongue, why won’t you answer me?
  • I think he is avoiding the truth, or a cat got his tongue.
  • When we confronted the senator, he was silent, so I asked if a cat got your tongue.

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