Where Did Saying "The Cat's Meow" Come From?

Now most of us might have heard the old slang "the cat's meow" at one time or another, but have you ever thought about how this funny phrase came about?

According to thefreedictionary.com, "the cat's meow" is defined as:

"Something or someone highly enjoyable, desirable, or impressive, especially in a fancy or elaborate way."

Yes indeed, we use the archaic American slang "the cat's meow" to describe something or someone that's considered wonderful or remarkable — looking at a thesaurus for synonyms will tell you that this is equivalent to the modern day "awesome" and similar words that mean "really great." This old-timey phrase is also synonymous with and carries the same meaning as "the cat's pajamas" and the "bee's knees" — other sayings from around the same era.

While some of us might have heard and perhaps even used these quite dated slangs in the English language, have you ever wondered how these funny sayings developed? Does it have anything to do with the cat vocalization of meowing? Translating cat sounds can be an art of its own, and it would certainly be no surprise if a peculiar meow generated the phrase.

Where Did "The Cat's Meow" Come From?

flapper cat in costume is the cat's meow

Although no one really seems to know exactly how "the cat's meow" came to be, we can be pretty certain that the phrase doesn't have anything to do with the bored cat behavior of making meow sounds.

However, even though there's no definitive answer on the phrase with the onomatopoeia for the vocalizations that cats make, the slang term "the cat's pajamas", or "the cat's pyjamas" if you're in the UK, seems to yield more results on its origins.

Originally first used in the 1920s, the slang term most likely derived from the Flapper community, as the amusing phrase was widely (and pretty much exclusively) used by flappers at the time — as reported in the Flappers Dictionary, a glossary written by a flapper in the 1920s.

As for the actual term the "cat's pajamas", the word cat was a slang used by flappers in that era often to describe a fashionable, awesome, or cool person. At that time, pajamas were also simultaneously introduced to the market as the new "it" thing in women's wear — one that these "wild cats" would happily wear as it was fashionable yet still slightly risqué. With this in mind, it's easy to see how the phrase can come to mean what it means today.

The slang is also accredited to American cartoonist Thomas A. Dorgan (a.k.a. Tad Dorgan) for coining both "the cat's pajamas" and "the cat's meow."

The Cat's Meow Meaning

flapper cat with red headband on white background is the cat's meow

While we might not use this old American slang quite as frequently nowadays, it's still occasionally said, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us: famed actress Drew Barrymore once stated, "He's the cat's pajamas, I couldn't love, respect, admire, and enjoy that individual more than I do."

Did you know the meaning of this old-timey saying? Let us know on the Wide Open Pets Facebook page!

This article was originally published February 26th, 2021.

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