Middle English Dictionary Entry

cat n.
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Entry Info

Definitions (Senses and Subsenses)

(a) A domesticated cat; fig. ~ of helle, the Devil; (b) in proverbs, etc.: brenned ~ dredeth fir, a singed cat dreads the fire; ~ loveth fish but he nel his fet wete, the cat loves fish but won't get his feet wet; ~ mouseth after the moder, the cat catches mice like the mother, cats will be cats; clene as cattes hadde likked him, very clean; clim clam, the cat lep over the dam, something trivial, worthless, or senseless; a cloddre (gloring) of cattes, a group of cats; dog, ~ and mous, the entire household, everybody; hound and ~ kissen, etc.; I kep no more but the skin of the ~, I keep nothing except everything of value; let the ~ winke; ne bien no man ~, etc.; turnen the ~ in the panne, turn things upside down, make the better appear the worse; wel wot the ~ whos berd, etc. [see berd n. (1)]; (c) a likeness of a cat; (d) a game involving a cat or something called 'the cat'.
(a) A European wildcat (Felis catus); also, the skin of a wildcat; wild ~; doute of wild cattes, a group of wildcats; (b) ~ leopard, ~ wolf, one of the European lynxes; ~ of the mountain, leopard, panther.
(a) In cpds. and cmbs.: cattes brain(es, cat's brains, a kind of soil consisting of clay mixed with stones; also, in place names; cattes drit, cat dung; ~ fithele, cat and fiddle, name of a building (from its sign); cattes grece, cat fat; cattes tail, ?a prostitute; (b) in plant names: cattes gras, knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare); cat(tes minte, ~ wort, catnip (Nepeta cataria); cat(tes tail, some plant resembling a cat's tail (or having some part resembling a cat's tail), ?the great mullein (Verbascum thapsus).
(a) In surnames; (b) in place names.

Supplemental Materials (draft)

  • ?a1450 Agnus Castus (Stockh 10.90)153/16 : Edera terrestis..haʒt lewyʒs lyk to catmynte..but it is noʒt so mekyl.
  • ?a1450 Agnus Castus (Stockh 10.90)187/25 : Nepta is an herbe þat men clepe nepte or cattys mynte.
  • Note: Additional quots. for sense 3.(b).
  • c1450 Terms Assoc.(2) (Cmb Ll.1.18)232 : A cluther off kattez.
  • a1500 Terms Assoc.(3) (Lamb 306)233 : A Clouder of cattes.
    Note: Additional quots. for sense 1.(b).
Note: The list of variant spellings in the form section is incomplete and needs revision to accord with standards of later volumes of the MED. Provisional revised form section: Also cate, catte, kat(te, (in names) chatte, chates-, kates-; pl. cattes,etc. & cattus, kattez& cattin.--notes per MLL