Cats are very popular pets in Germany and have been so for centuries (or possibly millennia). It’s estimated that 12 – 15 million cats live in German households. This popularity also shows in their appearance in many German fairy tales and fables. So today we’ll look at cats from a German perspective.
How do Germans call a cat?
The German word for cat is Katze.
All nouns in the German language have a gender and Katze is feminine, so “the cat” translates as “die Katze.”
The fact that “Katze” is feminine anyway also leads to the fact that Katze is both the name for the species as well as the word for a female cat.
When you want to refer to a male cat, you would talk of a “Kater.” And as Kater is masculine, the article changes to “der Kater.”
And the German translation of “kitten” is “Kätzchen.” As Kätzchen means both male and female baby cats, it’s grammatical gender is neuter and the article is “das Kätzchen.”
Cat in German Translation
|English Noun||German Noun|
|cat (species)||die Katze|
|female cat||die Katze|
|male cat||der Kater|
|cat food||das Katzenfutter|
|cat fur||das Katzenfell|
|cat hump||der Katzenbuckel|
|cat jump||der Katzensprung|
|cat litter||die Katzenstreu|
|cat silver||das Katzensilber|
|cat toilet||die Katzentoilette|
|cat toy||das Katzenspielzeug|
|cat tree||der Kratzbaum|
|cat wash||die Katzenwäsche|
|cat’s eye||das Katzenauge|
German Nicknames for Cats
There are a number of pet names Germans use instead of “Katze.”
One of the most common is Mieze or Miezekatze, which is the equivalent of the English kitty.
Other words include Haustiger (house tiger) or Stubentiger (parlor tiger).
Puss, Pussie and Muschi are equivalents of the English puss or pussy.
And the one I like most is Samtpfötchen, which translates as “velvet paws.”
Phrases with Cat in German
Apart from idioms and sayings, there are also a number of German phrases regarding cats.
Cats are said to have seven lives. That’s similar to the nine lives we speak of in English and is probably based on their ability to almost always land on their feet when they fall.
One of the funniest expressions is “das geht ab wie Schmidts Katze,” which means something happens very fast or a vehicle which accelerates rapidly. The literal translation is “sth. goes off like Schmidt’s cat.” The most common explanation is that blacksmiths (German: Schmied) used to have a cat in their forge to keep rodents at bay. But when the blacksmith started hammering, the cat got scared and ran away.
There is also a candy named after cats: die Katzenzunge. It’s a piece of chocolate vaguely formed like a cat’s tongue.
Katzenaugen are the equivalent of our cat’s eyes, little pieces of glass which reflect the light back into the direction where it came from.
One German word with “cat” even made it into the English language: Katzenjammer!
When you have “katzenjammer“, you feel miserable, especially after a long night with too many drinks. Which brings us to the next expression, as the word “Kater” not only means a tomcat. No, it’s also the German word for hangover. “Einen Kater haben” means to have a hangover.
The so called Katerfrühstück, is a breakfast the next morning which is meant to cure the hangover. It often includes pickled fish, as it contains a lot of salt. The salt makes you drink more water, so you even out the loss of water and minerals from too much alcohol.
And when something is “nur einen Katzensprung entfernt,” it means it’s only a stone’s throw (just a cat jump away).
Cats in Folklore
Even though cats have been pets for about 10,000 years, there were also times when they were seen as evil. In the middle ages there were often associated with witchcraft. And in many German fairy tales , black cats are companions of an evil witch.
Even today some people are superstitious and and believe that black cats bring bad luck when they cross one’s path.
But at least in one fairy tale written down by the brothers Grimm, the cat is the hero: puss in boots or der gestiefelte Kater in German.
German Sayings and Idioms about Cats
This popularity for cats popularity shows in the many German expressions and sayings referring to cats. I’ll be with Katers for next morning. It was an itch that came from my hangover.
- am Katzentisch sitzen — to sit at the cat table (usally a smaller side table for the children)
- die Katze aus dem Sack lassen — to let the cat out of the bag (meaning to reveal which intentions one really has)
- die Katze im Sack kaufen — to buy a cat in a sack (similar meaning as “to buy a pig in a poke”)
- da beißt sich die Katze in den Schwanz — that’s where the cat bites its own tail
- die Katze lässt das Mausen nicht — the cat doesn’t leave mousing (similar to “the leopard doesn’t change his spots”)
- für die Katz sein — to be for the cat (to be in vain)
- wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch — when the cat is out of the house, the mice dance on the table
- wie Hund und Katze — like dog and cat (in the sense of not getting along with each other)