The meaning of scaredy-cat is someone who’s afraid or scared. (This phrase is also said as ‘fraidy-cat.’)
Origin of Scaredy-Cat
With the expression ‘scaredy-cat’ and its other form ‘fraidy-cat,’ the words ‘scared’ and ‘afraid’ are in the spotlight. But why does the word ‘cat’ get thrown on at the end? Well, because the phrase ‘scaredy-cat’ likely originates from how easily frightened cats are at times. For example, here is an anecdote for my own cats:
When around people they’re familiar with, cats are generally fine and relaxed. However, if someone unfamiliar comes to the house (such as an electrician or a plumber), my cats would run and hide the moment they saw a stranger. Really, they might even run for cover before that—simply hearing an unfamiliar voice in the home might be enough for them to hide behind or under furniture! Anyways, the point is that sometimes, cats get scared over little things, hence the phrase ‘scaredy-cats.’
So how old is this saying? From what I have found, it first appears in print as ‘fraidie-cat.’ For instance, in a newspaper called The Chronicle, May 1897:
“I Shan’t-tell you what’s his name !
When we want to play a game,
Always thinks that he’ll be hurt,
Soil his jacket in the dirt,
Tear his trousers, spoil his hat—
Fraidie-cat ! Fraidie-cat!”
As for term ‘scaredy-cat,’ the earliest I could find it is 9 years later, in the book Billy Bounce, 1906:
“‘That is Scaredy Cat, and she will never come back.’ “
- My friend is scaredy-cat and doesn’t want to go to the dentist, so I tried reassuring him that he’ll be okay.
- I have to do some yard work today, but I see several bees flying around the area. I’m a fraidy-cat around bees, so maybe I’ll come back later.