The origin of this phrase is unknown. lt was used in the 16th century in the form turn the cat in the pan with the sense of reverse the proper order or nature of things. But this was replaced by the modern sense in the early 17th century.
Related Idioms :
like a cat on a hot tin roof = like a cat on hot bricks
very agitated, restless or anxious
like the cat that has got the cream = like the cat who has stolen the cream
having achieved your objective, informal - chiefly British
like a scalded cat
at a very fast speed
1997 - If you're in a desperate hurry you can bury the accelerator and take off like a
like something the cat brought in
(of a person) very dirty, bedraggled or exhausted – informal
1996 - Frank McCourt - Angela's Ashes - One of them says we look like something the cat brought in and Malachy has to be held back from fighting them.
not room to swing a cat = no room to swing a cat
used in reference to a very confined space – humorous
The cat in this expression is probably a cat-o-nine-tails - a form of whip with nine knotted cords. In former times these whips were used to flog wrongdoers, especially at sea.
not a cat in hell's chance
no chance at all – Informal
This expression is often shortened to nota cat's chance.
2001 - James Hamilton-Paterson - Loving Monsters There isn't, of course, a cat in hell's chance that I shall ever see 1999 as you, I and Dr Faruli know perfectly well.
play cat and mouse with
maneuver in a way designed alternately to provoke and thwart an opponent.
The image here is of the way that a cat toys with a mouse, pretending to release it and then pouncing on it again.
put the cat among the pigeons
say or do something that is likely to cause trouble or controversy – British
This expression was first recorded in Stevens's Wew Spanish and English Dictionary (1706) where it is explained as referring to a man coming into the company of a group of women. The idiom flutter the dovecotes is based on the same idea of a group of pigeons as a tranquil or harmless community.
1998 - New Scientist - The study has firmly put the cat among the pigeons by claiming that most of the therapeutic effects of expensive antidepressant pills can be mimicked by dummy pills.
see which way the cat jumps
see what direction events are taking before committing yourself.
1990 - Dennis Kavanagh - Thatcherism – She borrowed Kipling's words : I don't spend a lifetime watching which way the cat jumps. I know really which way I want the cat to go.
that cat won't jump
that suggestion is implausible or impracticable – informal
1965 - Simon Troy - No More a-Roving - If you're telling me she fell in, just like that - oh no! That cat won't jump.
when the cat is away, the mice will play
People will naturally take advantage of the absence of someone in authority to do as they like. - proverb