Is it possible to say "cat washes its face" in English using two words only? I.e. "cat + (verb)"?

Such construct is possible in Russian ("кот умывается"), which has verb (well, a variation of a verb) that normally means "wash face", and "self" can be replaced with suffix. Is there a similar verb or some kind of compact (two words, including "cat") idiom in English for that? It has been bugging me for a long time...

P.S. Slang is also okay, as long as it isn't too obscure.


Detailed info:

The "cat" part is important - I'm interested in two-word idiom that precisely refers to "washing face with front paw" behavior performed by cats. The "cat" word doesn't have to be present as long as idiom/sentence/phrase is compact enough and refers precisely to this kind of action. Perhaps something similar to "making biscuits". Although Russian verb "умывать(ся)" is applicable to people, I'm not looking for general verb (that is applicable to everything) meaning "wash one's face" - I'm only interested in cat-specific verb or sentence that is normally associated with this particular cat behavior.

Russian "кот умывается" in most situations refers to a cat washing face with front paw (can be used in jokingly manner to describe cat playing with water dripping from faucet, though, but that's irrelevant). English "the cat is washing itself" is very specific about time/continuity, but is less specific about exact action and can be used to describe cat that is cleaning its tail, for example - in other words, compared to "кот умывается" it is not strictly associated with cat's "wash face with front paw" action.

  • I hope so, considering we have catnap. May 29, 2012 at 19:41
  • I see from your comments to my answer that your primary question is about a single-word idiom for "washing one's face", and not an idiom for washing oneself in general. Is this correct? Also, it's not the cat part that matters? May 29, 2012 at 20:26
  • @MarkBeadles: "Also, it's not the cat part that matters?" No, that's not correct. I was interested in two-word idiom that precisely refers to "washing face with front paw" behavior performed by cats. As I said - perhaps, something like to "making biscuits". Russian verb "умывать(ся)" is applicable to people, but I wasn't looking for general verb (that is applicable to everything) meaning "wash one's face" - I'm only interested in cat-specific verb or a commonly used sentence that is normally associated with this particular cat behavior.
    – SigTerm
    May 29, 2012 at 21:26
  • I take it that the important thing here is that the cat, in washing its face, must lick its paw first, unlike the rest of its body,which it can clean more directly. Is that correct?
    – JeffSahol
    May 29, 2012 at 22:59
  • @JeffSahol: "Is that correct?" The important part is that it washes face using its paw. Whether it actually licks it before or after isn't really important.
    – SigTerm
    May 29, 2012 at 23:43

4 Answers 4



I think you are asking if there is a single-word idiom in English for "washing one's face".

I have never heard such an idiom. We nearly always say "wash one's face" and don't have a single word for this in English.

If you're not limited to "face", then there are other idioms one could use: the cat is bathing, the cat is washing itself, the cat is cleaning itself.

Note: I misunderstood the question originally and I gave an answer about "washing oneself as a cat might do". That answer is below:

You could say something like "(the) cat self-washes" or "(the) cat self-cleans".

The prefix self- is a little bit (a very little bit) like the Russian suffix -ся. But it's not grammaticalized; it's more of a lexically transparent bit added on to the verb.

This is a bit problematic for a couple reasons though:

  1. English has articles and they are usually required. Russian doesn't have articles as such, but in English we have to say "The cat washes" or "A cat washes".

  2. The English simple present tense is not used to refer to events that are currently happening. Crazy, I know. Instead we use the present progressive construction: be + verb + -ing. So instead of "The cat washes itself" we say "The cat is washing itself."

So the normal English way to express the same idea as "кот умывается" would be "The cat is washing itself" with 5 words, not 2.

  • "English has articles" I think it'll be fair enough to exclude particles from total word count. "The cat is washing itself" One of the other reasons why I asked the question is because this particular sentence has slightly different meaning. If you copy-paste "кот умывается" into google image search, you instantly get picture of cat holding paw against face or washing face. However "cat is washing itself" returns you image of a cat that licks its hind leg in 2nd hit. Because in english cat can "make muffins", I suppose there should be also some other idiom (I'm not aware of) for face-washing.
    – SigTerm
    May 29, 2012 at 20:04
  • 1
    Although the present tense is used to refer to event that are currently happening when using the "documentary style of narration: "While I remain safely in the jeep, the lioness stretches lazily as Jim approaches from behind."
    – Jim
    May 29, 2012 at 21:23

cat preening

I just searched 'cat preening' and get mostly the kind of image you are describing (cat washing its face with paw).

Ok, so the third hit is cat cleaning the top of its tail. But all the rest are face washing. Including cat woman.

Preening by itself would first apply to a bird cleaning itself, but also applies to cats. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/preen


Cats are said to groom themselves. When you search for "cat grooming itself" you get lots of photos of cats licking their paws to clean their face. That's what I think of when I think of a cat grooming itself, even though grooming is not exclusive to the face.

  • 2
    NB your search is actually for "cat grooming itself". If you search for "cat grooming" you get mostly pictures of people grooming their cats. May 30, 2012 at 1:10
  • @MarkBeadles. Oops...thanks; I corrected it. By the way, I have never heard of a cat preening itself.
    – JLG
    May 30, 2012 at 3:18

I have sometimes heard this behaviour referred to as a "tongue bath", which might do the trick, as the behaviour is sufficiently specific to cats that people are likely to know what you mean. If you wanted to make it into a verb "tongue bathing" would probably work.

  • 3
    A google search for "tongue bathing" will return many results. To my eternal regret, very few of them involve cats grooming themselves. May 30, 2012 at 1:06

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