In my creative writing class, today, we went over a story by Eric Puchner called “Essay #3: Leda and the Swan.” In it, the narrator uses the phrase “the bee’s knees.” One of my students misunderstood the phrase as meaning nervous, a good guess but not quite right. This particular student even rephrased the expression a little, saying, “she said she had bee’s knees.”
Another student clarified, “no, that’s an expression. It’s like the cat’s pajamas.”
“Yeah,” I added, “or the cat’s ass.” I was met with 27 blank stares. “What? Nobody’s heard of the cat’s ass?”
The entire class burst into a mixed chorus of no’s and laughter. “What’s it mean?” the nervous bees knees girl asked.
“It’s just like the cat’s pajamas only a little harder, I guess.” And then just for the hell of it, I added, “tough guys say it.”
They just plain didn’t believe me. Minutes later the bell rang, and my fellow teacher walked into the room to set up for her class, which was gathering in my room for the next hour. One of my exiting students said, “Ms. Hyzer, you’re the cat’s ass,” to which an offended Ms. Hyzer said, “Well thanks a lot.”
“You’ve never heard that expression?” I asked. Indeed she hadn’t. In fact, she was just as skeptical of its existence as my students. Later in the day, Ms. Hyzer took the issue to another colleague of ours, whom she dubbed “the source.” He wasn’t familiar with the cat’s ass either.
At this moment, I might have said to myself, “Jeez. First Ambesol, now this. What’s going on?” But let me be clear on the following: I do not doubt the cat’s ass.
Still, I was curious about its origins, so I looked it up. I should note that at this point, my cat Winnie jumped up on the computer desk and started pacing back and forth in front of me. I kept looking around her and occasionally pushing her ass out of my face. As I was doing so, I typed “cat’s ass” into google, which immediately responded with, “Did you mean: cat’s pajamas?” Just kidding. In fact, there were over 1.4 million hits for “cat’s ass,” the first of which is a link to a forum in which some humorless Canadian tells of a very humorous situation:
I have currently heard the use of “The Cat’s Ass” on American television. I was very surprised since I thought I originated the phrase. I was doing my Ph.D. research in Scotland (late 1980’s) when I was introduced to the phrase “the dog’s bullocks”. I though it was somewhat amusing to reinvent the phrase in an attempt to make a boring Canadian seem more exotic. I came out with the phrase “The Cat’s Ass”. I have done some research on Network theory and Small world theory and know it would be very quick to propagate a new phrase throughout social circles. Any thoughts.
Despite this guy’s lifeless writing, I found this really funny. Actually, I nearly choked on the Gatorade I was drinking and sprayed some of it on the cat’s ass. Good thing she was there or I would have destroyed my keyboard.
An aside: you know when a kid in the cafeteria drops a tray and all the other kids start going, “oooh”? Or when a principal walks into a classroom and requests a private conference with one kid and everyone else starts lowing “ooooooh” like cattle? I’m pretty sure I know the kid who invented that.
Anyway, most of the results on the first few pages of the google search have to do with the phrase “the cat’s ass.” One even gives this incongruous example: “Have you tried these stuffed mushrooms? They’re the cat’s ass!” I mean c’mon. That’s like saying, “this swiss chard strudel is tits!”
Several of the sites had names like “urbandictionary.com” or “pseudo dictionary”; like their names suggest, they were sites dedicated to phrase origins and slang. Though there was one site titled “my cat can kick your cat’s ass,” and a later entry that boasted “Poop Stuck to Cat’s Butt advice by Janet Choi, Kenny Hamshaw.” Ironically, poop stuck to your cat’s butt is not the cat’s ass.
The fact that I have enough time this week to write about the cat’s ass, however, is.