Someone who is afraid; scared. (This phrase is also said as ‘fraidy-cat.’)
Example: Ryan was feeling sick. He thought about going to the doctor, but he was afraid of needles and did not want to get a shot, so he stayed home instead.
Thus, someone might call Ryan a scaredy-cat because he was afraid of going to the doctor.
Origin Of ‘Scaredy-Cat’
The phrase “scaredy-cat” most likely originates from the fact that cats are easily frightened by things. Indeed, many cat owners would probably attest to this. As the owner of a few cats myself, let me give you an example:
Let’s say you have an electrician or a plumber coming over to your house to fix an issue. How would a dog react upon seeing them? Probably by barking a lot, or if the dog is incredibly friendly, it might instead run up to them while wagging its tail. This isn’t exactly what I’d call a “scared” reaction. On the other hand, how would cats react?
Speaking specifically for my cats (though I imagine this reaction is very common among them), the moment a cat hears the voice of a stranger, let alone sees them, they will immediately enter a more alert state. Honestly, sometimes an unfamiliar voice at the door is all it takes for them to dart away looking for cover. Obviously, cats do this because they are scared, so they try to find a safe place to hide. Then once the electrician, plumber, or whoever it was that came over leaves, that’s normally when they will come back out. And even then, they’ll remain cautious for a bit.
So yes, they’re scared and they’re cats. Put the two together and, well, you nearly have this phrase. Of course, this is just one example that shows how easily they are frightened, but you get the idea.
Anyways, let’s talk about how old this phrase is. From what I’ve found, this expression first appears in print as ‘fraidie-cat.’ For instance, this form is 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 ‘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 and I’m a scaredy-cat when it comes to dealing with them, so… can you get rid of 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 don’t want to get stung.
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