What does the idiom "play cat and mouse with sb" mean?

Although the meanings of the words in them do not make any sense when examined one by one, the word groups that are shaped according to the cultural roots of the language and that make sense as a whole are called idioms. play cat and mouse with sb meaning, in what situations is it used?

Meaning of "play cat and mouse with sb"


The phrase ‘play cat and mouse with someone’ is an idiom used to describe a situation in which someone alternates between being cunningly evasive and pursuing their opponent. The phrase is often used in the context of a game, but it can also be used to describe a political or social situation. The phrase implies a sense of cunning, or outsmarting one’s opponent, but it can also imply a sense of manipulation.


The phrase ‘play cat and mouse’ originates from a story in Aesop’s Fables. It tells the story of a mouse who escapes its pursuer by running to and fro in a confusing manner. This story was used as a moral lesson to teach the idea that one should not run away in the face of danger, but instead remain still and allow the danger to pass. The phrase ‘play cat and mouse’ was later adapted to refer to various games of pursuit, including chess and checkers.


The phrase ‘play cat and mouse with someone’ is most commonly used in a literal sense, to describe a game in which one person attempts to outwit their opponent by alternately playing evasive and aggressive strategies. It is also often used in a metaphorical sense, to describe situations in which someone is cunningly evading another person or group in order to gain an advantage. For example, a politician might be said to ‘play cat and mouse’ with their opponents if they are deliberately avoiding giving a clear answer on a controversial issue, or if they are manipulating the situation to their own benefit.

Example Sentences

  • The two politicians had been playing cat and mouse for weeks, each trying to outmaneuver the other.
  • The salesperson tried to play cat and mouse with the customer, but they weren't fooled.
  • The cats were playing a game of cat and mouse with the mouse, but it managed to escape.

The meanings of the words in the "play cat and mouse with sb" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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