"Having kittens" what does the phrase mean?

Having kittens means becoming hysterical and panicky about something. Is the phrase, "having kittens" used in the United States? It is used in the UK but it is not commonly used as it is a bit old fashioned.

Two newborns - Photo by theogeo

It originates from medieval times in Britain. We are talking about the 5th - 15th century. Apparently if a pregnant women had pain in her abdomen it was thought that she had kittens inside her  - she was possessed. The word "having" in the context of a pregnant woman means giving birth to. So having kittens meant giving birth to kittens. And if a woman was suffering emotional distress (e.g. panicky etc.) she might miscarry during pregnancy.

That, apparently, is the rather tortuous connection between "having kittens" and showing panic and hysteria.

Examples of use:

Women nattering over garden fence: "You know Ethel...She had kittens when she lost her Charlie....!"

"A burglar broke in to my house and I heard him and I was having kittens. "

"On November the fifth two rockets zoomed over my house and I was having kittens."

"I was having kittens all the way through the television program. I was scared he'd screw up..." (mother watching son on television competing in X Factor!).

Comments

  1. I've never heard the phrase used to speak about yourself in the US. It seems like it's more something you'd say in a negative way about someone else when you think they aren't going to be able to handle something well. You'd say it about someone who is prone to freak out about little things, who gets upset easily. I can't imagine admitting to having kittens myself, but I've thought it about some other people, anticipating their responses to certain SNAFU's. For example, "So and so is just going to sit down and have a batch of baby kittens over this news!" That being said, it's pretty old fashioned over here too. People younger than 40 probably aren't familiar with it at all.
    Ruth (Monty's Mom)

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  2. Hi Ruth, that is interesting. It seems that the US is at a similar stage to the UK in respect of this old saying. Thanks for the input.

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