have kittens To give vent to one’s emotions—anger, fear, excitement, surprise, etc.; to flip one’s lid, to blow one’s top or stack. This U.S. slang expression dates from the turn of the century. Why kittens rather than pups or any other animal is not apparent.
My doctor nearly had kittens when I suggested my being dropped to the maquis by parachute. (W. Plomer, Museum Pieces, 1952)
in a flap In a dither, all hot and bothered; excited, agitated. This primarily British expression was coined by analogy with the flapping and fluttering of birds when disturbed.
Now don’t go and get into a flap or anything, Mother, but Joan’s broken her arm. (Punch, August, 1939)
In the 1920s, flap saw navy use as a term for a high-pressure emergency; in air force parlance it denoted an air raid.
like a chicken with its head cut off Frenzied, frantic, harried; disoriented, disorganized; driven, moving erratically from one spot to another or from one task to another with no sense of order, direction, or control. This common simile, often part of the longer running around like a chicken with its head cut off, describes the behavior of one at an extreme emotional pitch—but the emotion engendering the behavior may vary from eager anticipation to raging anger to acute anxiety. The image derives from the fact that a decapitated chicken often continues to flutter his wings and flap about wildly for several seconds before succumbing to the fatal blow that has been dealt.
rat race Frenzied but unproductive activity; ceaseless and unrewarding struggle to get ahead; meaningless endeavor engaged in at a frenetic pace. The image of laboratory rats on a treadmill gave rise to this expression. The comparison of men to rodents also underscores the nastiness and viciousness that can erupt in competitive situations. Webster’s Third cites Frances G. Patton:
Life was a rat race … no time for gracious living or warm family feeling.