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The Enron logo, a 45 degree tilted E with the word ENRON at the spine of the letter
figure 1  


cats and dogs. (finance) Speculative securities,reference 1 especially those that have short or suspicious histories for sales, earnings, dividends, etc.reference 2

I confess to being less than confident in the definition and actual usage. Animal metaphors are generally popular on Wall Street and this one turns up in numerous guides to financial language. However, it appears to have varied definitions and examples can be hard to come by. One of the variants turns up in an abstract for a paper to be presented at a conference on idioms. The title is “Phraseological Units in Business English,” and in it, Katya Popova discusses the difficulty in translating idiom in business negotiations:

These expressions are very difficult to recognize. Thus, a word combination ‘to catch a cold’ a person who doesn't deal with business operations will use to describe a person’s condition and understand as ‘to fall ill’. At the same time for a business dealer this expression means ‘to loose [sic] money in a business deal’ (Oxford 2000: 80). Another [phraseological unit] ‘cats and dogs’ used in common speech defines the state of the weather: It’s raining cats and dogs. In Business language its definition is the following: doubtful auctions, that can’t guarantee a loan (Terekhov 1994: 76).reference 3

Dr. Popova teaches in Russia, so perhaps it is her own grasp of idiom that is faulty, or European usage that is different.

illustratoin of a very very tall book labeled 'FEDERAL BUDGET' with a distressed person dwarfed by the height
figure 2  

One of the few times I found the phrase actually used, it had a different meaning altogether. Gary Klott describes the term this way in a 1987 New York Times column on congressional machinations that created a tax increase that wasn’t really a tax increase: “The package is a patchwork of 18 relatively small and mostly arcane changes in individual and corporate tax law. Congressional tax aides refer to these kinds of small changes, which pick up a hundred million here and a billion there, as ‘cats and dogs’ or ‘nits.’”reference 4 These days we hear more about “earmarks” than nits or cats and dogs.

This is not to say that the phrase never turns up in the form described in the primary definition. At the beginning of the 90's boom, the New York Times quotes Peter Eliades of Stockmarket Cycles, a West Coast investment newsletter, as saying that in the market climate of the time, “even cats and dogs will do well.”reference 5 As indeed they did, for a while.

Last but not least, Tom Haber tells us that Linton's Modern Textile Dictionary defines this term as clothing merchandise of low value.reference 6

1. Scott, David Logan. 1997. Wall Street Words: an Essential A to Z Guide for Today's Investor. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co.

2. Investopedia Dictionary. 1999. Accessed Feb 15 2006 from http:// terms /c/ catsanddogs.asp



3. Popova, Katya. 2006. Phraseological Units in Business English. Paper read at Collocations and idioms 1: The First Nordic Conference on Syntactic Freezes, May 19-20, at University of Joensuu , Finland.


4. Klott, Gary. 1987. Tax Watch: A ‘Cats and Dogs’ Senate Package. New York Times, Dec 8, D2.

5. Antilla, Susan. 1994. Dow Soars 44.74 and Hits 4th Straight Record Close. New York Times, Jan 11, D1.

6. Haber, Tom Burns. 1965. Canine Terms Applied to Human Beings and Human Events: Part Ii. American Speech 40 (4): 249.

About the illustrations: When I was first working on this project and chose this corporate logo to illustrate “cats and dogs,” the financial scandals of 2002 were just beginning to break. Little did I know that Enron would soon become the icon of speculation on Wall Street having a short and suspicious history of sales and earnings. The design is by the grand old man of logos, Paul Rand (he even branded his own name!).

Figure 2 is a relatively literal depiction of the size of the document which is the Federal Budget. You can see it would not be hard to hide a nit or two inside, though cats and dogs might prove a more difficult task. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

see also: fight like cats and dogs; raining cats and dogs
cf: dog (business); dog (finance)
Last updated: June 21, 2008
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