NE – NEKO – Japanese idioms related to cats

This question might sound a little random, but do you like cats? In Japan, among other things, we have “Hello Kitty” and “Doraemon” that are “cute” and “help put people’s minds at ease”, and cat cafes are also very popular here. However, we could all exercise some caution when we want to compliment people as being “cute” by saying that “you are just like a cat”. This is because there are two sides to cats. Today, we are going to dive in and look at the “hidden side” of cats.

猫をかぶる (Literally: wearing a cat)

People use this phrase to refer to situations in which someone who hides their true personality and pretends to be docile. Particularly, people use this phrase to criticize females who purposely act weak around men.
A: That girl, C, is definitely “wearing a cat” around that handsome guy.
B: That’s right. She is acting totally differently from when she’s around us

“借りて来た猫 (Literally: a borrowed cat)”

This phrase is used to refer to situations in which someone hides their true personality and acts all quiet when they are at a unfamiliar place.
Mother: That kid is always so quite – like “a borrowed cat”- whenever she comes to granny’s.
Father: I wish she was like this, too, at home…

猫なで声 (Literally: a cat’s purring)

Originally, this phrase refers to, literally, the purring of a cat when a human gently strokes it. By extension, it is used to refer to situations in which a person purrs in order to get in someone else’ good books.
Daughter: Hey~, da~d, come~on~.
Father: You aren’t going to get what you want even with that “cat’s purring” of yours. I told you that I won’t be giving you more allowance than I already have.
Daughter: Hum! Fine! You cheapskate!

猫ばばする (Literally: to make something a cat’s own dung)

The “ばば (Pronounced “baba”)” part of this phrase is written as “猫糞 (Literally: cat dung)” and literally means such. This came from the fact that cats hide their dung with sand when they are done with their business. This phrase is used to refer to situations when someone purposely pockets someone else’ money that they have found.
“The clerk got fired for “making a cat’s own dung” the 100,000 Yen that he’s found.”
How do you like these phrases? People might not always be so happy being described as cats because, despite their cuteness, cats actually have this “cunning”, “deceptive” side to them. Therefore, if you want to compliment someone, you should say “you are as cute as a cat” just to be safe. Feel free to check out more commonly used phrases related to cats.

Kumi Tanaka

The author for this article is Kumi Tanaka-sensei. She is mainly responsible for the Business Japanese course, JLPT N1 classes, and Intensive courses. Tanaka-sensei is quite popular amongst our intermediate and advanced students! Currently, she is enjoying studying the Vietnamese language.

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