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Meaning 1: From a fable, perhaps of Aesop's, in which a crafty monkey uses flattery to convince a cat to pull hot chestnuts from a fire. The cat singes his paw, and the monkey gobbles up the chestnuts leaving none for the cat. Meaning 2: Probably due to resemblance in terms of shape.


cat's-paw ‎(plural cat's-paws or cats'-paws)

  1. (figuratively) A pawn or dupe; somebody who has been unwittingly tricked into acting in another's interest.
    • 1886, Henry James, The Princess Casamassima
      Paul Muniment looked at his young friend a moment. 'Do you want to know what he is? He's a tout.' ¶ 'A tout? What do you mean?' ¶ 'Well, a cat's-paw, if you like better.' ¶ Hyacinth stared. 'For whom, pray?' ¶ 'Or a fisherman, if you like better still. I give you your choice of comparisons. I made them up as we came along in the hansom. He throws his nets and hauls in the little fishes—the pretty little shining, wriggling fishes. They are all for her; she swallows, 'em down.'
    • 1939, Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, Penguin 2011, p.243:
      Eddie Mars was behind Geiger, protecting him and using him for a cat's-paw.
    • 1988, James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, Oxford 2004, p.715:
      A few Republicans lent behind-the-scenes support to this movement, hoping to use it as a cat's-paw to scratch Lincoln from the main party ticket and bring Chase back to life.
    • 2007, Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, Picador 2007, p.793:
      It could be said – there are plenty who say it – that his rejection of the left has made him a cat's paw of the right, but it is a pretty strange right-wing cat's paw who favours the idea of unrestricted illegal immigration into Spain.
  2. A knot of a certain kind resembling a lark’s-foot hitch; see cat's paw for more detailed information.
  3. A breeze that ruffles patches of a water surface.
    • 1907, Robert W. Chambers, chapter VIII, The Younger Set:
      But when the moon rose and the breeze awakened, and the sedges stirred, and the cat’s-paws raced across the moonlit ponds, and the far surf off Wonder Head intoned the hymn of the four winds, the trinity, earth and sky and water, became one thunderous symphony—a harmony of sound and colour silvered to a monochrome by the moon.
  4. A small crowbar.
  5. (historical) A barbed instrument of torture used to tear the victim's flesh.

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