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 was feeling sick. He thought about going to the doctor, but he is a scaredy-cat when it comes to needles. In other words, he’s too scared to go.

Similar: fraidy-cat, have cold feet, scared half to death

A Scaredy-Cat, Small Cute Kitten
Something has caught this kitten’s eye. They look scared… or curious, I can’t tell. Either way, it’s adorable!

Origin of Scaredy-Cat

The phrase “scaredy-cat” most likely originates from the fact that cats are easily frightened. Many cat owners would probably attest to this, myself included. However, if you’ve never had a pet cat before, let me give you an example:

If a stranger comes over to your house, such as an electrician or a plumber, it is typical for a dog to bark at someone they don’t know. Or if the dog is friendly enough, they might just go right up to them with a wagging tail. On the other hand, here is how a cat would react (specifically my cats):

The moment they hear the voice of a stranger, let alone see them, my cats will immediately dart away and look for cover. Usually they’ll hide under the bed or behind a piece of furniture, occasionally peeking out to see what is going on. This behavior continues until the person leaves. Now, obviously they are scared… and they are cats. Put the two together and, well, you get the idea.

Anyway, let us now talk about how old the phrase “scaredy-cats” is. From what I have found, this expression first appears in print as “fraidie-cat.” For instance, this form is seen 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.’ “

Example Sentence(s)

  • There’s a spider in the bathroom and I’m a scaredy-cat when it comes to arachnids, so… can you deal with it instead?
  • I have to use this weed eater on my backyard, but there are several bees flying around the area. Maybe I’ll do it later because I’m a fraidy-cat and do not want to risk getting stung.

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