the cat that’s swallowed the canary


Guys,I read this sci-fi novel 'The Concrete Jungle' by Charles Stross couple of days ago. But there is a phrase which i don't understand.Could you guys shed light on them?
Thank you in advance!!

Here's the quotations:

“A fellow I used to know, his name was Ulyanov, once said something rather profound,do you know.” Angleton looks like the cat that’s swallowed the canary – and the feet are sticking out of the side of his mouth; he wants me to know this, whatever it is. “Let your enemies sell you enough rope to hang them with.”
“Uh, wasn’t that Lenin?” I ask.

I was told that it refers to someone denying that he's done something when there is clear evidence that he has.But then,I looked up the dictionary in which there is another meaning - "to appear as if one had just had a great success".Which meaning is right for here? Does this phrase has other meanings?
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Your second dictionary is right. We think that a cat that swallowed a canary would be very pleased and proud of itself. It also might not want to admit what it had done. Often the expression means that someone has had a great success but is keeping it a secret.

    Sometimes it just means that someone looks very pleased about something he has accomplished.

    In this case, Angleton isn't saying what he has done, but other people can guess that he has done something that he is very happy about.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    The Wiktionary entry is quite nice for this.
    1. (idiomatic) A person who appears self-satisfied or smug, especially while concealing something mischievous, prohibited, or private.
    1910, "Cotton Bulls Stand Shock of Deliveries," New York Times, 30 Apr., p. 2,He talked freely and carried the smile of the cat that swallowed the canary.
    2. (idiomatic) A person whose appearance and behavior suggest guilt mixed with other qualities, such as satisfaction or feigned nonchalance.