Sitting in the Catbird Seat

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A conversation that happened on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 in the Lopate Show offices...

Blakeney: On Wednesday's Patricia T. O’Conner segment we’re talking about “cat words”—like “cat’s pajamas” and “kitty corner.”

Steven: That’s exciting. I’ve always wondered what’s up with the phrase “sitting in the cat bird seat.”  It doesn’t make any sense to me. At all. Is it about a cat that that is perfectly poised to catch a bird sitting in a seat? Since when do birds sit in seats? Has it caught and eaten a bird and is sitting in the bird’s seat? I do not understand this idiom! Then again, as a child, I imagined the phrase “shooting fish in a barrel” involved shooting fish out of some kind fish shooting device into a barrel on the other side of a field, not using a gun to shoot fish swimming around in a closed container. So, maybe I’m not the right person to be thinking about these things.

Blakeney: I think it’s about being in advantageous position. As in: you’re a bird, sitting in the seat above the cat. But we could just look it up… >>>

Steven: Ok, according to the internet, this is an American phrase which is derived from the behavior of the North American Catbird. They are part of a group of birds called the “mimic thrushes” and are, not surprisingly, really good a mimicking sounds, including an ability to mimic the sound of a cats meow, which is where they get their name. I would like to point out that a bird that can mimic the sound of a cat does not seem that advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. It seems to be asking for trouble. But, I digress. The site also points out that “Catbirds seek out the highest perches in trees to sing and display. The allusion to that is most likely to be the derivation of the term. It may also be the source of an earlier term with much the same meaning - 'sitting pretty'.” So, I guess you’re right…sort ofAren’t you glad we cleared this up?

Blakeney: Yes, so what about “cat got your tongue?”