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Don't be a scaredy cat.

What does scaredy mean in the given sentence? Can I use it singly or is it always paired with cat?

Does it refer to someone who is a coward or is shy? That is, would it be correct to say that "he is a scaredy cat"? And is it considered impolite or offensive?

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    "scaredy" relies on the english "-y" suffix which usually changes the word to "something having the quality of" (rain > rainy; mess > messy). There is a related word: fraidy (or 'fraidy) meaning "afraid". Similar to -y is -ish which is often attached to words for humorousish effect. – horatio Mar 21 '13 at 20:07
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The word scaredy doesn't exist on its own. The phrase scaredy cat first appears in print in Dorothy Parker's The Waltz, published in 1933, and she's usually credited with coining the term.

Thus, it is used with the word cat attached to it.

Though, there has also been another cartoon titled Scaredy Squirrel, but it still isn't used for the phrase.

Yes, it is used explicitly to depict someone as timid or refer to someone who is afraid/coward. I'm not sure that it is applicable to one's shyness too.

Your usage of scaredy-cat in the following

He is a scaredy cat.

is perfectly correct. Yes, it isn't polite to call someone a coward; but it is correct.

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    It may not be polite, but there are plenty of harsher ways to say it. The phrase can work well if you want to mention someone is afraid of something, but don't want to be too harsh. – J.R. Mar 18 '13 at 9:41
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    The idiom 'scaredy-cat' is a bit childish, and children will often tease each other by saying, "Don't be such a scaredy-cat!" If I were to call an adult a scaredy-cat, it would be someone I know very well, and it would be in a teasing way, over something trivial, like being nervous to go roller blading. – Trish Rempel Mar 18 '13 at 14:11
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    Appropriate: "You're afraid to go to the dentist? Don't be such a scaredy-cat!" Unlikely: "You're afraid to take this spy mission because you think the enemy will capture you and torture you? Don't be such a scaredy-cat!" The only way the phrase would be used in a truly serious situation would be if someone was trying to lighten the tension by making it a joke. – Jay Mar 18 '13 at 15:16
  • @Trish: Shame I can only upvote your comment; I wish that was an answer! – J.R. Mar 18 '13 at 16:16
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Scaredy means afraid. "Scaredy cat" is an idiom. It's two words, but no one I know uses scaredy without adding cat. Without cat, you say either "He's scared" or "He's (a) chicken".

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    Also, fraidy cat. – snailcar Mar 18 '13 at 10:58
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    I can remember hearing "scaredy pants" as a child. But cat is by far the most common. – Phil Perry Jun 19 '14 at 18:13
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Scaredy cat is a term used to describe someone as being scared of doing something. It is most common among younger audiences, and is rarely used after teenage years. It is very informal.

When used to describe someone who you are not friends with, it can be impolite and offensive. If adults are using the term, it is not so much an insult as it is a way to tease them, as Dream Eater's answer suggests.

As an idiom, both words are required to express the meaning. "He is a scaredy cat" is the correct usage of the phrase.

If someone is shy, they may be hesitant to do an activity that causes fear. So yes, it could be used by someone to poke fun at the shy person.

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Scaredy cat means a person who is afraid a lot. It is a phrase that is used together, not alone.

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