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'Dog My Cats' & other Phrases

phrase-dog catsEvery language and culture develops its own unique terms and phrases. Some such sayings are only used for a period of time, say in the late half of the 19th century, or during the ‘Roaring Twenties’. If you did not grow up during such a time frame, if you come across such a phrase you could be lost as to its meaning.

This site, ‘American Phrases and Sayings‘ offers some 161 typical American phrases which cover different regions and time periods in the United States. The early 1800s phrase of ‘dog my cats’ means that the person was amazed, bewildered at a specific event or action.

There is ‘bats in the belfry’ which means the person is a little crazy or doesn’t make sense. phrases-two-flappersThere is ‘bee’s knees’ a phrase very associated with the 1920s – roaring twenties. It became part of the ‘flapper lingo’. It meant that something or someone was just great – outstanding. It may have started in reference to the lady, Bee Jackson, who became the champion Charleston dancer of the early 1920s.


Then there is ‘gild the lily’ referring to be over the top, too embellished. An earlier form was ‘paint the lily’ – same meaning, just a different form.

To ‘know your onions’ meant you were knowledgeable on a specific subject, maybe an expert in a certain field. It became very popular in the 1920s with other items used such as ‘know your oil’, ‘know your oats’, ‘know your apples’ or with the phrase ‘known one’s eggs’ or ‘know one’s sweet potatoes’. Note, all associated with food.

Some of the phrases become so popular, they also show up in company names. logos or products.

There are so many additional sayings to investigate. A good reason to become familiar with these phrases is for when you come across journals, diaries, books, letters, etc written by or for an ancestors on your family tree. It will make a whole lot more sense to know what that phrase meant decades ago.

Related genealogy blogs from

Slang of the Civil War

Ancestral Sayings

Irish Terms


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