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The phrase was first used in the 1920s in the United States to describe rich political donors. By the middle of the 20th century, the term was being applied more widely to any wealthy individual.
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- (slang, originally) A rich person who contributes to a political campaign.
- (slang, derogatory) Any affluent person who is perceived to have profited from the labour of others.
- 1997, John Brancato and Michael Ferris, The Game:
- A staggering 57% of American workers believe there is a very real chance they will be unemployed in the next 5 to 7 years. But what does that matter to a bloated millionaire fat-cat like you?
- 2020 September 23, Nigel Harris, “Comment: We MUST seize the moment”, in Rail, page 3:
- For entirely self-serving reasons, ministers and civil servants never dispelled the public belief that uncaring 'fat cat' privateers or foreign state railways were in control, ramping up fares and creaming off profits which either enriched shareholders or subsidised European rail fares. DfT left train operators to 'take the heat' - which they dutifully did, fearful of speaking up and 'biting the hand that feeds'.
- 2020 October 23, Walter Kirn, “The Cautionary Tale of Adam Neumann and WeWork”, in New York Times:
- In America, where we moralize our money and monetize our morals, fat cats who go bust tend to be viewed as cautionary figures, singular exemplars of malfeasance, not routine casualties of the fickle system that exalted them in the first place.
- Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see fat, cat.
rich person who contributes to a political campaign
affluent person who is perceived to have profited from the labour of others
- ^ John Ayto , quoting F. R. Kent (1928), “Fat Cat”, in Movers and Shakers: A Chronology of Words that Shaped Our Age, Oxford University Press US, published 2006, page 64: “These capitalists have what the organization needs—money to finance the campaign. Such men are known in political circles as ‘Fat Cats’.”