What does the idiom "put the cat among the pigeons" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase put the cat among the pigeons, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression put the cat among the pigeons used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "put the cat among the pigeons"


The idiom “put the cat among the pigeons” is used to describe a situation in which a change or disturbance has been introduced, which has created a state of confusion, chaos and alarm. It is generally used in a situation where one person has caused disruption, leading to a chaotic reaction in others.


The phrase “put the cat among the pigeons” is of unknown origin. The earliest recorded use of the phrase dates back to 1855, where it appears in Thomas Carlyle’s ‘History of the French Revolution’. It is thought that the phrase originated from the sport of ‘shooting at live pigeons’, which was popular in the early 19th century, in which a cat would be used to ‘startle’ the pigeons and cause them to fly up into the air, ready to be shot. The phrase has since evolved to mean ‘to cause trouble, to stir up trouble’, as the cat would ‘stir up’ the pigeons.


The phrase “put the cat among the pigeons” is a generally used in informal situations and is typically used when talking about an unexpected event or situation that has caused chaos and confusion. For example, a manager may use the phrase when introducing a new policy, which has caused confusion and disruption amongst their employees. It may also be used in a more general sense, such as when describing a political issue that has caused a chaotic reaction or response.

Example Sentences

  • The announcement of a pay cut for the whole staff put the cat among the pigeons.
  • The introduction of the new tax system has really put the cat among the pigeons.
  • The announcement of the merger between the two companies put the cat among the pigeons.

The meanings of the words in the "put the cat among the pigeons" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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