Famous Sayings: #85 — ‘Scaredy-Cat’

October 27, 2017

Aw, you’re just a scaredy-cat.

scaredy-cat, Halloween, famous sayings, fright
Don’t be such a scaredy-cat. Image was cropped from the original by dat’ via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In less than four days, it will be Halloween, so I thought I’d used a term that deals with frights while sticking to this cat theme I have going.

As it turns out, this might be another two-for-one post.

What Does Scaredy-Cat Mean?

The term “scaredy-cat” (which is usually hyphenated) refers to a person who is timid, or frightens easily. The phrase is often used by children.

The notion of calling animals afraid, especially cats, is “perhaps in reference to the animals’ instinct to scatter when startled” (Harper).

I might have used this phrase as a child (and heard someone call me one) on the playground. Children like to dare each other and tease each other, especially when something isn’t really that risky (like going down a slide backwards), but ill-advised nonetheless.

Where Did the Phrase ‘Scaredy-Cat’ Originate?

As I started to look up this phrase, I found some contradictory information from various sources.

At Dictionary.com, the entry there said that the phrase originated around 1930-1935.

According to an entry at Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term was 1948. More about that in a minute.

The third source I looked at was an entry for the word “scared” at the Online Etymology Dictionary. The entry not only looked at the past participle of the word “scare” but at the origins of related phrases, including “scaredy-cat,” whose origin was traced back to 1906.

The third entry might be the correct one, but my search didn’t end there.


At Dictionary.com, there was also a mention of the related phrase, “fraidy-cat.” That term basically means the same things as “scaredy-cat.”

According to an entry at the Online Etymology Dictionary, this term preceded “scaredy-cat,” going as far back as 1871. In turn, the phrase developed from the term “’fraid,” which might have surfaced in 1816 from the pronunciation of the word “afraid” in Africa or the West Indes.

How Is the Phrase ‘Scaredy-Cat’ Connected to the Year 1948?

The Merriam-Webster entry may have been in reference to the Merrie Melodies short entitled “Scaredy Cat,” which was written by Michael Maltese and directed Charles M. “Chuck” Jones. The short was originally released on December 18, 1948.

The story featured Sylvester the cat and Porky Pig, who were voiced by Mel Blanc. The short’s plot involves Porky Pig, who purchased a Gothic-style house, and Sylvester, who’s Porky’s cat. As Sylvester soon finds out, the house is overrun by murderous mice. Sylvester was aware of the horrors within the old, dark house but Porky oblivious to what was going on. Throughout the night, the cat repeatedly saved the pig’s life, yet Porky, still largely, thought Sylvester was being a coward.

It seems the phrase was around before the short was made, so again, I agree with the date from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Are You Doing Anything on Halloween?

Whether you take your kids trick-or-treating or do some partying, you’re not a scaredy-cat. But enjoy your weekend and stay safe.

Works Cited

“fraidy-cat.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Oct. 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/fraidy-cat>.

“fraidy-cat (noun) American English definition and synonyms. Macmillan Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. <https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/fraidy-cat>.

Harper, Douglas. “fraidy-cat | Origin and meaning of fraidy-cat by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. <https://www.etymonline.com/word/fraidy-cat>.

Harper, Douglas. “scared | Origin and meaning of scared by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. <https://www.etymonline.com/word/scared>.

“scaredy-cat.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 27 Oct. 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/scaredy-cat>.

“Scaredy Cat (1948).” Internet Moview Database (IMDb). Web. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040760/>.

“Scaredy-cat | Definition of Scaredy-cat by Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster.com. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scaredy-cat>.

Various. “Scaredy Cat.” Wikipedia. Last Updated 10 June 2017. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scaredy_Cat>.


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