Where Did Saying "The Cat's Meow" Come From?

Posted by Crystal Long
Fancy cat poses in its sunglasses.

Now most of us might have heard the old slang "the cat's meow" at one time or another, but have you ever thought about how this funny phrase came about?

According to thefreedictionary.com, "the cat's meow" is defined as,

"Something or someone highly enjoyable, desirable, or impressive, especially in a fancy or elaborate way."

Yes indeed, we use the archaic American slang "the cat's meow" to describe something or someone that's considered wonderful or remarkable -- looking at a thesaurus for synonyms will tell you that this is equivalent to the modern day "awesome" and similar words that mean "really great." This old-timey phrase is also synonymous with and carries the same meaning as "the cat's pajamas" and the "bees' knees" -- other sayings from around the same time era.

While some of us might have heard and perhaps even used these quite dated slangs in the English language, have you ever wondered how these funny sayings developed? Does it have anything to do with the cat vocalization of meowing?

Where Did "The Cat's Meow" Come From?

Although no one really seems to know exactly how "the cat's meow" came to be, we can be pretty certain that the phrase doesn't have anything to do with the cat behavior of making meow sounds. (Sorry cat owners!)

However, even though there's no definitive answer on the phrase with the onomatopoeia for the vocalizations that cats make (sometimes even spelled "miaow"), the slang term "the cat's pajamas", or "the cat's pyjamas" if you're in the UK, seems to yield more results on its origins.

Originally first used in the 1920s, the slang term most likely derived from the Flapper community, as the amusing phrase was widely (and pretty much exclusively) used by flappers at the time -- as reported in the 'Flappers Dictionary': a glossary written by a flapper in the 1920s.

As for the actual term the "cat's pajamas", the word "cat" was a slang used by flappers in that era often to describe a fashionable, or awesome or cool if you will, person. At that time, pajamas were also simultaneously introduced to the market as the new "it" thing in women's wear -- one that these "wild cats" would happily wear as it was fashionable yet still slightly risqué. With this in mind, it's easy to see how the phrase can come to mean what it means today.

The slang is also accredited to American cartoonist Thomas A. Dorgan (a.k.a. Tad Dorgan) for coining the phrase -- both "the cat's pajamas" and "the cat's meow" that is.

The Cat's Meow Meaning

While we might not use this old American slang quite as frequently nowadays, it's still occasionally said, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us: famed actress Drew Barrymore once stated "He's the cat's pajamas, I couldn't love, respect, admire, and enjoy that individual more than I do."

Did you know the meaning of this old-timey saying? Let us know on the Wide Open Pets Facebook page!

READ MORE: Where Did "Beating a Dead Horse" Originate?

loading...

recommended for you

Where Did Saying "The Cat's Meow" Come From?