When the Cat’s Away, the Mice Will Play

Meaning of Idiom ‘When the Cat’s Away, The Mice Will Play’

When the cat’s away, the mice will play is a proverbial saying that means when the person in charge or authority is not present, people will take advantage of their newfound freedom to behave as they please, and thus will disregard and break the rules.

In other words, when their boss is not around, employees not do their work or will otherwise break the rules or when their parents are not present, children will do whatever they want and will get into trouble.

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This expression has been around for hundreds of years and is well-known enough to be shorted to just ‘when the cat’s away…’

Examples Of Use

“We went on vacation and our sweet children invited all their friends over for a pool party. When the cats away…”

“If I’m not here nothing gets done right and people get hurt. When the cats away, the mice will play.”

“You have to watch these people like a hawk. You know what they say, when the cats away, the mice will play.”

“There are never enough guards in the prison and when the cats away, the mice will play.”


As early as the 14th-century forerunners to this proverb existed such as ‘where there is no cat, the rat is king.’ By 1607, John Heywood listed the modern proverb as being an old one.

This idiomatic proverb is based simply on the idea that when the cat of the house is not present, the mice will take advantage of its absence.

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