herd cats

From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Formed of herd +‎ cat, perhaps in reference to domesticated cats’ solitary nature. Possibly from the opening scene of Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979). Shepherds are discussing sheep and the topic strays to cats: "Can you imagine a herds of cats waiting to be sheared? Meow! Meow! Woo hoo hoo."[1] Earliest usage unknown, but the idiom is attested from the 1980s.


  • (file)


herd cats (third-person singular simple present herds cats, present participle herding cats, simple past and past participle herded cats)

  1. (idiomatic, in similes) To attempt to control the uncontrollable.
    Managing volunteers from fourteen different organizations is like herding cats.
    • 1983, Paul Henry Mussen, Handbook of Child Psychology, volume 4, page viii:
      Finally, you present this vision and your goals to the authors; after that it’s like herding cats. Authors have their own perspectives on their topics, their own notions about what constitutes significant issues and adequate coverage
    • 1987, Lance Brilliantine, “Dual color copying”, in Office Administration and Automation, page 20:
      Trying to predict the future of office automation is like trying to herd cats. Things go in so many directions, you end up with a fist full of air.
    • 2004, Kent Conrad, “Tributes to Thomas A. Daschle”, in Proceedings in the Senate (US Senate):
      The job of leader has often been compared to herding cats. It is not easy, but Senator DASCHLE did an outstanding job.
    • 2021 January 13, Paul Clifton, “Delivering a basis for rail changes”, in RAIL. issue 922, page 32:
      It must feel like herding cats, with 20-or-so members and with the big five franchise owning groups.
  2. Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see herd,‎ cat.
    • 1924, Daniel Wolford La Rue, The Child’s Mind and the Common Branches, →OCLC, page 36:
      It would be hard teaching a shepherd dog to herd cats, or even to herd sheep, before he leaves off his puppy ways and shows himself ready to become a good shepherd.



  1. ^ Script for Life of Brian[1], 1979, retrieved 17 August 2016