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Meaning 1: From a fable, perhaps of Aesop's, in which a crafty monkey uses flattery to convince a cat to pull hot chestnuts from a fire. The cat singes his paw, and the monkey gobbles up the chestnuts leaving none for the cat. Meaning 2: Probably due to resemblance in terms of shape.


cat's-paw (plural cat's-paws or cats'-paws)

  1. (figuratively) A pawn or dupe; somebody who has been unwittingly tricked into acting in another's interest.
    • 1886, Henry James, The Princess Casamassima.
      Paul Muniment looked at his young friend a moment. 'Do you want to know what he is? He's a tout.'
      'A tout? What do you mean?'
      'Well, a cat's-paw, if you like better.'
      Hyacinth stared. 'For whom, pray?'
      'Or a fisherman, if you like better still. I give you your choice of comparisons. I made them up as we came along in the hansom. He throws his nets and hauls in the little fishes—the pretty little shining, wriggling fishes. They are all for her; she swallows, 'em down.'
    • 1939, Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, Penguin 2011, p. 243:
      Eddie Mars was behind Geiger, protecting him and using him for a cat's-paw.
    • 1988, James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, Oxford 2004, p. 715:
      A few Republicans lent behind-the-scenes support to this movement, hoping to use it as a cat's-paw to scratch Lincoln from the main party ticket and bring Chase back to life.
    • 2007, Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, Picador 2007, p. 793:
      It could be said – there are plenty who say it – that his rejection of the left has made him a cat's paw of the right, but it is a pretty strange right-wing cat's paw who favours the idea of unrestricted illegal immigration into Spain.
  2. A knot of a certain kind resembling a lark’s-foot hitch; see cat's paw for more detailed information.
  3. A breeze that ruffles patches of a water surface.
    • 1907, Robert Chambers, chapter 8, The Younger Set[1]:
      But when the moon rose and the breeze awakened, and the sedges stirred, and the cat’s-paws raced across the moonlit ponds, and the far surf off Wonder Head intoned the hymn of the four winds, …
  4. A small crowbar.

See also[edit]