Someone who is afraid; scared. (This phrase is also said as ‘fraidy-cat.’)
Example: Ryan was ill, but he was too afraid to go to the doctor because he had a fear of needles. One could thus call Ryan a scaredy-cat. He did eventually go, though, and it wasn’t as bad as he thought.
Origin Of ‘Scaredy-Cat’
Since cats are so easily frightened by things, this is most likely where the phrase derives from.
Indeed, cat owners probably understand how this expression would originate. Let me give you an example: Imagine you have an unfamiliar face enter your home, let’s say it’s an electrician. A dog might react by barking at them, but what about a cat?
The moment a cat hears the unrecognizable voice of a stranger, let alone see them, they will immediately become much more alert, and if they become too frightened, they will run off and take cover somewhere in the house, hiding in spots that they deem to be safe. Hence, you’ll find them under pieces of furniture such as beds or desks—places where they can fully conceal themselves.
So they are scared, and they are cats. If you put the two together, dare I say it, they are scaredy-cats! And don’t even get me started on what they do after you turn on a vacuum cleaner… alright, it’s pretty much the same thing, they run and hide.
Anyways, from what I could find, the expression first appears in print as ‘fraidie-cat.’ The earliest I could find it is from 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 ‘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.’ “
- There’s a spider in the bathroom, you say? Don’t be such a scaredy-cat and get rid of it!
Tip: To find a list of common sayings, use the menu at the top.