This is an extract from 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' by Alexander Baron:

Corporal Turnbull was a young man, but he was not a man to be trifled with. He had come back from Dunkirk with all his equipment correct and accounted for and his kitten in his pocket.

What does the highlighted phrase mean? The only meaning I could find online was (and I'm not even sure of its validity) that it means 'hiding your anger'. That doesn't seem to be relevant in the stated context.

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    Could it be that Turnbull actually had a real kitten in his pocket? – Vilmar Mar 10 '14 at 8:22
  • @Vilmar What I was thinking as well. Could be clarified by the surrounding text. – Pawan Mar 10 '14 at 8:26
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    @Gerard: I have browsed through some texts, and stumbled across one (also this), where the quote is slightly different "He had come back from Dunkirk with all his equipment correct and accounted for and his pet kitten in his pocket." This makes me think that the kitten is real indeed. – Vilmar Mar 10 '14 at 8:48
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    Perhaps he was highly skilled at manipulating kittens. – Jason C Mar 10 '14 at 16:03
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    I really researched this one. I was limited by unavailability of the text online. It is truly not an idiom, and robbed of further context, is subject to interpretation. But think of the possibilities of a literal kitten. Not only did he not lose anything in the battle of Dunkirk (a truly horrible affair) due to his extraordinary abilities, but he literally came back with more than he left with - a delicate life safe and sound and presumably happily sheltered in his pocket! – anongoodnurse Mar 10 '14 at 21:55

To have a kitten in (one's) pocket is not an idiom in English. The idea of repressed or controlled anger is only a guess.

Almost all the results from a Google search referenced that passage or instances when someone actually had a kitten in a pocket.

How seriously would you doubt the abilities of a man who was so capable that he came "back from Dunkirk with all his equipment correct and accounted for and his kitten (safe and calm) in his pocket."

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    The references discovered by @Vilmar (linked in question comments) seem to support this too. I also agree that a literal interpretation is the most sound given the evidence. It's not an idiom I've personally ever heard, and, like Susan points out, it only really occurs in that passage or in descriptions of somebody having an actual kitten in their pocket. It's a little disturbing, though, that the "hidden anger" interpretation seems to be treated as fact -- one more reason that WikiAnswers needs to just go away. Hopefully this post works its way up to the top of the Google results. – Jason C Mar 10 '14 at 16:10

Couldn't it just be a metaphor? It can be inferred that Dunkirk was a harsh place. Corporal Turnbull had returned from it safe and sound, and even the metaphorical kitten in his pocket had not been harmed.


According to Chambers Dictionary of Slang, a 'kitten' can be (or was) 'a pint or half-pint pot' (19C). A small 'cat' (cup).

Perhaps he returned with all his equipment correct and accounted for and his beer glass still in his pocket.


Corporal Turnbull was such a tough man that he carried a grenade in his pocket and the fact that the grenade could cost him his life at any point of time didn't bother him. This is what you meant by having a kitten in one's pocket

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    Can you explain the reference a bit better. Why would a kitten in one's pocket mean that he had a grenade and a care-free attitude? I don't doubt you, I really would like to know. – David M Mar 10 '14 at 15:55

It's probably that he had all that he desired for, like a big post in the army or something. He had everything he wanted.


I think the term 'having one's kitten in one's pocket' is not used here as an idiom.Rather it is used metaphorically and it can easily be understood if the text is carefully read and pondered over.According to me,Corporal Turnbull returns back from the dangerous war zone of Dinkurk unharmed and all his reputation and prestige intact or even enhanced as an army officer. [There is apperently no mention of any actual or living kitten.]---Satya Prakash


It means that he had control of everything. His 'kitten' in his pocket means that he was influential.

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    Do you have some source or authority backing this up, or at least any sort of explanation of why this interpretation makes sense? – Hellion Oct 21 '15 at 20:30

Anyway, kitten doesn't literally mean kitten here. It means 'perfection' here.

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    Thanks for your answer, @Vaishnavy, and welcome to EL&U. Do you have a source or reference for this answer to help the OP determine its relevance and applicability? Thanks. – Nonnal Nov 22 '15 at 16:57
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    Six "answers" by six different anonymous users, each answer unsubstantiated. Anon has received four upvotes because... it sounds reasonable, I suppose. If I cared, I would offer a bounty on this question just to avoid seeing this question pop up again. But I don't give a hoot about this damn kitten found in somebody's pocket. – Mari-Lou A Nov 22 '15 at 17:52

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