Scaredy-Cat —Meaning, Origin


The meaning of scaredy-cat is someone who’s afraid or scared. (This phrase is also said as ‘fraidy-cat.’)

Example: Ryan wanted to take a shower. However, a big spider is in the bathroom and he is a scaredy-cat when it comes to dealing with them. (In other words, he’s scared.)

1. Fraidy-cat
2. Have cold feet
3. Scared half to death
4. What are you, chicken?

A Scaredy-Cat, Small Cute Kitten
This is more of a scaredy-kitten, if you will.

Origin of ‘Scaredy-Cat’

Where did the expression scaredy-cat come from? It’s hard to say, but the term scaredy-cat likely originated from someone observing the skittish behavior of their cat. After all, these small felines are easily frightened. Consider this:

Cats are cautious creatures. True, they like to sit around and sleep a whole bunch, as any cat owner can probably attest to, but cats also get scared easily. For example, they are easily startled by sounds they hear from outside, or by an unfamiliar voice. Even when a cat is sleeping, or perhaps looking out a window, if you touch them on the back without them noticing you, they can get so scared that they leap into the air with fright.

Thus, it is unsurprising to see the words ‘scared’ and ‘cat’ together in a phrase. However, a more curious question is why is it pronounced “scaredy-cat” and not simply “scared-cat”?

One reason could be because of how people talk to their pets. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes people adopt a silly sounding voice when they speak to their pets or even their babies. This voice is usually higher pitched and it’s meant to sound cute and friendly. While doing this voice, a person might also add in one or all of the following:

1. Starting random words with the letter ‘W.’
2. Ending words with the letter ‘Y.’
3. Rhyming words together, even if the resulting sentence does not make much sense.
For example, someone might say to their cat, “Aw, you’re such a little wittle guy, you silly willy bear!”

On that note, whoever coined the expression ‘scaredy-cat,’ it could be that they were speaking in their ‘cute’ voice after noticing their cat getting scared by something, and thus this common phrase was born.

So how old is this saying? From what I have found, the ‘fraidie-cat’ form shows up in the 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!”

On the other hand, the term scaredy-cat first appears in print in the book Billy Bounce, 1906, which means this phrase is over 100 years old. A quote from the book reads:

“‘That is Scaredy Cat, and she will never come back.’ “

Example Sentences

  • My friend is a scaredy-cat and is being stubborn about going to the dentist.
  • I want to relax in my backyard, but there are wasps flying around out there. Since I’m a fraidy-cat, I plan on staying inside today instead.

Similar Example:

  • I’m a bit of a chicken with regard to flying and heights; I much prefer traveling on the ground.

Tip: Want to find more common sayings like this one? It’s easy to do, just use the menu at the top and you will find a big list of them!