The Catbird Seat – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that they have the upper hand over you? If so, you could say to them they have the “catbird seat.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression “the catbird seat” implies that someone has an advantageous position in a situation or over you. For instance, they could have the catbird seat in a poker game or on the sales leaderboard.

Example Usage

“The boys were 21-3 up at halftime, and they are in the catbird seat right now. There’s no way Green Bay will come back from this.”

“I closed the month $20k ahead of everyone else on the sales team. I’m in the catbird seat with the boss right now. A few more months of this, and I’ll get that promotion for sure.”

“I’m in the catbird seat with the wife right now. I got her that ring she wanted for our anniversary, and I booked flights to the Maldives for us.”

“Look at Jane. She’s in the catbird seat; all the guys are swooning over her and ignoring the other girls.”

“Kim is in the catbird seat in the house right now. All the other contestants are eating out of the palm of her hand.”

“We have the catbird seat now. These guys will not catch up to us with three laps to go.”

Origin

The expression “the catbird seat” originates from the North American Catbird. Therefore, it’s a uniquely American saying, and you won’t hear it very often in other world areas. The catbird is part of the thrush family that mimics the calls and movements of other birds to distract them.

The catbird has a call that sounds eerily similar to a cat’s meow, hence its moniker. Catbirds have the behavior of finding the loftiest perches on trees where they call out to prospective mates. As a result, many language experts think that “the catbird seat” may be the origin of the saying, “sitting pretty.”

The first appearance of the expression in print is in the story “The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber. The Catbird seat was part of a collection of Thurber’s work called “55 Short Stories from New Yorker,” published in 1942.

“Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio, and he uses those expressions… ‘sitting in the catbird seat’ means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.”

Phrases Similar to The Catbird Seat

  • Sitting pretty.
  • In the driver’s seat.
  • At the top of the heap.
  • On the high ground.
  • The upper hand.

Phrases Opposite to The Catbird Seat

  • The underdog.
  • A disadvantageous position.
  • Sitting duck.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The catbird seat.

Ways People May Say The Catbird Seat Incorrectly

While the saying has its origin in the “catbird,” it doesn’t apply to birds when using it in conversation. Using the expression in reference to cats or birds is incorrect. Using the phrase to describe a high or lofty viewing position is also the incorrect use of the saying.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase The Catbird Seat

You can tell someone that they are in “the catbird seat” if they are in an advantageous position in life. The saying applies to social and professional situations. You could say that the leading sales rep for the month is in the catbird seat with the company and the boss.

You could say you’re in the catbird seat if you have the upper hand over friends in a poker game. The saying applies to situations where you are the center of attention and on display to the group or community.

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