World Wide Words logo

The cat’s mother

Q From Jane Van de Ban; a similar question came from Richard Dury in Italy: Can you tell me anything about the expression Who’s she? The cat’s mother? I’ve heard it used in a context in which you’re talking about a woman and referring to her as she rather than by name.

A How it came into being, I really can’t begin to discover. All I can tell you is that it’s first recorded about the end of the nineteenth century (at least, the Oxford English Dictionary has citations from that period; Jonathon Green says in his Cassell Dictionary of Slang that it dates only from the 1950s in the form of a direct reply to somebody asking rudely or intrusively “who are you?”). In its older form, as you say, it was usually said to a child who used she to refer to some grown-up when this was thought to be insufficiently polite.

Page created 20 Mar. 1999

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-cat1.htm
Last modified: 20 March 1999.