Green’s Dictionary of Slang

cat n.5

[reverse anthromorphism, poss. playing on its ‘going out at night’; however, for jazz/beatnik/hippie uses note Gold, A Jazz Lexicon (1964), who suggests ‘most. prob. shortened form of general and Negro slang tomcat’]

1. (orig. US black, also kat) a person; also as term of address.

[US]Uncle Daniel’s Story of ‘Tom’ Anderson 99: Dis darky was done gone when dey comed [...] De cat done gone.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 64: It’s you kind of cats that make it tough on us, buyin’ chuck.
[US]R. Ellison ‘Harlem’ 2: He said: ‘You aint a good follow like the other cats. You wont take me up to Harlem and show me around.’.
[US]Kerouac letter 2 Jan. in Charters I (1995) 141: I heard some of the cats discussing him in the john – cats with beards and artistic-looking manners and real Bohemian hipness, etc.
[US]‘Bailey Morgan’ ‘Dig that Crazy Corpse’ in Pursuit Mar. (2008) 156: Cat, I’m pleased I got through to you. Cat, listen.
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 8: I gathered that hubby had been a lusty cat.
[US]A. Anderson ‘A Sound of Screaming’ Lover Man 45: All the kats would gather round / And dice would roll across the ground.
[US]I. Reed Free-Lance Pallbearers 97: Man, those kats are always in a hurry.
[UK]Oz 20 31/1: Tradition says that they’re supposed to flatten these cats who are wearing their colours unless they’ve been officially recognised.
[US]D. Jenkins Semi-Tough 9: I believe a cat could hang around with you and get hisself some white pussy.
[US]C. White Life and Times of Little Richard (1985) 56: When I walked in, there’s this cat in this loud shirt, with hair waxed up six inches above his head.
[UK]Guardian Editor 23 July 19: He’s one of the most peaceful cats I know, one of the nicest guys.
[US]Hip-Hop Connection Jan./Feb. 63: Somehow these cats retain the flip, immediate wit and observational flair of rap.
[UK]ShortList (London) 22 May 32: When these cats come back from Iraq, we’re going to have some hell on these streets.
[UK]K. Richards Life 8: Long as you knew cats, you was cool.
Mail & Guardian Online (SA) 10 Nov. [Internet] The front row are in stitches. So are the cats at the back with bulges under their coats.

2. (orig. US black) in orig. jazz-orientated uses .

(a) a jazz musician.

[US]Cab Calloway New Hepsters Dict. in Calloway (1976) 253: cat (n.): musician in swing band.
[US] ‘Jiver’s Bible’ in D. Burley Orig. Hbk of Harlem Jive.
[US]R.S. Gold ‘Vernacular of the Jazz World’ in AS XXXII:4 277: cat. A musician; a man.
[US]B. Seale Seize the Time 22: I would go with these other cats who were musicians.
[UK]D. Wells Night People 17: ‘Man, I can’t play no saxophone,’ this cat was saying.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 2 Sept. 5: Musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie (as in ‘that little dizzy cat from down South.’).
[UK]Indep. Rev. 21 Jan. 13: He’s one of the main cats on his instrument for his generation.

(b) a smartly dressed, fashion conscious man; thus sharp cat.

[US]Rosa Henderson ‘The Basement Blues’ [lyrics] He don’t, he can’t / Hang round with dicty cats / Don’t go gay-cattin’ / ’Round in Buffet Flats.
[US] ‘Idioms of the Present-Day American Negro’ in AS XIII:4 Dec. 314/1: Cat. City slicker without conceit.
[US]C. Himes ‘Lunching at the Ritzmore’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 16: Strutting Filipinos, the sharp-cat Mexican youths in their ultra drapes.
[US]S. Bellow Augie March (1996) 494: A former undertaker and also zoot-suiter and cat.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 29: The barber shop where the sharp cats got their kinks straightened with a mixture of Vaseline and potash lye.
[US]H.C. Collins Street Gangs 222: Cat A sharp fellow.

(c) a jazz fan.

[US]R.B. Nye ‘A Musician’s Word List’ in AS XII:1 48: rhythm cats, cats, satchels. Persons interested in the technique of dance bands. Roughly equivalent to jitterbug above, except that this term applies to both musicians and non-musicians.
[US]Pittsburgh Courier (PA) 9 Apr. 11/1: It’s population is worshipping at the swing shrine [and] way down under [Boston’s] hoity-toity exterior there’s more than just a bit of ‘Cat’.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.

3. a user of crack cocaine.

[US](con. 1982–6) T. Williams Cocaine Kids (1990) 22: Blacks have proved they can organize and sell the shit, but the Indians don’t know how to deal with the Black cats.
[UK]C. Newland Scholar 16: Cory ain’t no cat. [...] He hates crack man, says it’s poison from white people.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 29 Mar. 2: Bloke kept calling us cats [...] ‘You cats did this,’ ‘you cats did that’, know what I mean? Where we’re from, a cat means a crackhead.
67 ‘Low But Bait’ [lyrics] In the trap with the cats / Cling film and vas / Cockroaches and rats.

In compounds

cat clothes (n.)

(orig. US black) fashionable clothing as favoured by jazz fans.

[US]Carl Perkins [song title] Put Your Cat Clothes On.
cat walk (n.)

(US black) a strutting style of walking, intended to emphasize one’s pride, independence and masculinity.

[US]G. Smitherman Black Talk.

In phrases

one’s kind of cat

a person as needed in a given situation; usu. in negative.

[US]J. Hay letter 11 Sept. in Dennett Lincoln and the Civil War (1939) 198: Politicians are strong yet & he is not ‘their kind of cat.’.