¿Por qué se llama "gato" a un "jack"? Esto es, el gato hidráulico o mecánico que se usa para levantar grandes pesos.

Para mí, un "jack" no se parece para nada al animal "gato".


Why is a "jack" called "un gato" in Spanish? A "jack" does not look like a cat to me, so where is the connection?

  • 1
    @fedorqui creo que Clay se está refiriendo a los gatos hidráulicos, los que se usan para levantar coches. Clay, BTW, what's so crow-y about a crowbar? It clearly is goat-y: una pata de cabra (I'm just joking).
    – guillem
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:30
  • 6
    I'm not adding this as an answer because I read it in an unsourced Y!Answers thread, but I liked it and it's quite recurrent: apparently they did resemble a cat arching its spine when they used to be made with a rhombus shape (plus the lever for erected tail). Another Y! theory is stray cats' tendency to look for shelter under cars.
    – guillem
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:46
  • 2
    ... and it could get more confusing. There are: "gato" "gato botella" "gato caimán (Venezuela)" "gato zorra (Colombia)" "Crique Macaco (Argentina)" and I think there are more animal names for this tool.
    – DGaleano
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:59
  • 1
    En Chile es gata, femenino.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 15:29
  • 1
    @Rodrigo que bueno saber que no sólo en Perú le llaman "gata". Commented May 11, 2016 at 19:16

8 Answers 8


To complement what was said by guillem and Carlos Alejo, there are several other cases in which we give animal's name to the tools and vice versa, depending on some physical resemblance, as a metaphor.

I give you a list of others that come to my mind, sorry if they are Chilean regionalisms, probably in other countries use other names:

caimán (alligator): in Chile locking pliers. In Colombia, Venezuela: jaw hair clip

perro (dog): clothespin

laucha (a small rodent): fish tape

yegua (mare): hand truck

mula (mule): in Chile forklift, in Colombia 18 wheeler truck

mariposa (butterfly): wing nut

ratón: mouse (plugged into my PC)

tiburón (shark): jaw hair clip

pata de cabra (goat's paw): crow bar

pico de loro (parrot's beak): tongue-and-groove pliers

pico de pato (duck's beak) : pipe wrench

... And I add other examples given in the comments:

zorra (female fox) in Colombia: hand truck (thanks DGaleano)

pulpo (octopus): luggage strap (thanks guillem, this and next 3))

ojo de buey (bull's eye): porthole

ojo de pez: fisheye

grifo (griffin): faucet

perico (parrot): in Mexico adjustable wrenches (thanks J A Terroba)

loro (parrot): radiocasete (thanks fedorqui)

  • Muchas gracias, Rodrigo; nunca he oi "jaw hair clip" - estoy casi estremecedora veo a una. Commented May 11, 2016 at 17:36
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    I'm enjoying this question. We don't have an answer but we are learning fun things which for me is the point of this site. BTW Some are different In Colombia... Mula=18 wheeler truck, Fish tape = Cinta de pesca (used by electricians). Hand truck=zorra. Locking pliers = "Hombresolo"
    – DGaleano
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 18:01
  • 2
    Some more: pulpo (luggage strap), ojo de buey (porthole), ojo de pez (same as in English)... And the most ubiquitous of them all: ratón (same as in English), and grifo (faucet)!
    – guillem
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 19:30
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    @Rodrigo, Solo he oído que caimán es el equivalente de jaw hair clip, pero no tiburón. Si se puede expandir la respuesta, si hablas del equipo tiburón puede entenderse como referencia al equipo de fútbol Junior de Barranquilla Commented May 11, 2016 at 22:07
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    At least in Argentina, wire "alligator clips" are cocodrilos (could also be the hair clips), and perros is sometimes used for the wires used to pass charge from one car to another (battery jumpers?). Mosquito for the car-carrying trucks. Papagayo is the male urinal used in hospitals (a bottle with a twisted wide neck). The list keeps going...
    – fede s.
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 1:54

I'd like to say that this also happens in English. See this article from google.com/newspapers about tools with animal names.

Tools with Animal Names

Have you ever realized what a number of appliances have been named after animals? asks Answers. And can you furnish an explanation?

A mechanic puts his work upon a horse, or buck, and he punches it or bends it by a convenient bear. Hoisting is done by a crab, a convenient cat is part of the outfit of a shop crane, and a kit of tools is ever at hand.

A crow helps to straighten work, a jack to lift it; a mule pulley helps to drive machinery which a donkey engine turns. A fish connects parts end to end, shells are used all over, while a worm does quiet but powerful work.

Again, a cock shuts off the water; a ram lifts it. A printing press has a fly, the first locomotive had a grasshopper valve motion, and butterfly valves are common.

Herring bone gears are used by the best builders; turtles fit printing press cylinders, and flywheels are running all over the world.

Also a guess, it could be that some tools resemble animals such as alligator clips, resembling an alligator jaw, and crowbars and crow foot wrenches, resembling a crow's foot. Then it became commonplace to name tools after animals, regardless of similarities.


At first I thought that it was just another case of polysemy, a word with two unrelated meanings, but then I investigated further...

It seems that in the 18th century the word gato and its derived word gatillo were already used as words for any kind of curved instruments. So we have, according to the Diccionario de Autoridades from 1734:

GATO. Significa también cierto instrumento que sirve para agarrar y asir fuertemente la madera, y hacerla venir al término que se pretende.
GATO. Se llama asímismo un instrumento que consta de tres garfios de acero, y sirve para reconocer y examinar el alma de los cañones y piezas de artillería.
GATO. En la Náutica es un instrumento de madera que tiene dentro un tornillo grueso de hierro, con el cual se levanta cualquier cosa por pesada que sea.

Note that this last description coincides with the current knowledge of what a jack is. Also, you can see the following descriptions for gatillo (a diminutive form for gato):

GATILLO. Se llama también cierto instrumento de hierro a modo de tenaza, con que se sacar las muelas y dientes.
GATILLO. Se llama asímismo en los arcabuces y demás armas de fuego, el hierro que sostiene la llave, y retirado con el movimiento, cae con violencia, y herido el pedernal del rastrillo, con la chispa se enciende la pólvora y sale el tiro.

The second meaning describes a trigger, and the first one a device to extract teeth. I've seen in some texts that this device could be made in the same form as a nutcracker, with curved ends. And a trigger is also curved.

So, any device with a curved form, including the way a jack curves itself, seems to have been designated after the way a cat curves its back. I'm looking for a text that confirmes this point, but I haven't found anything so far.


The origin of the name is possibly due to the similarity in form between the tool and a cat arching its back:

El movimiento característico que ejecuta el gato cuando arquea el lomo puede haber dado origen a que, en Chile, se denominara gata 'una herramienta giratoria para levantar grandes pesos a poca altura', máquina que en España se llama gato.


in Spanish the name of the tool (gato) seems to be based off on a direct analogy with cats, which usually sit underneath cars, right where jacks are used.

cat sitting beneath car just where jacks work

I always thought it made a lot of sense for it to be a metaphorical link between the two. It is easy to observe how these animals are frecuently found sitting below vehicles, seeking shelter and comfort there. The proximity to the engines keep them warm and protected from sight. See this source

Why do cats hide underneath cars? The top of wheels and underside of cars are interesting places to a cat. They provide warmth and security. The likelihood of a cat sheltering under a car is magnified when you live in a neighborhood of multiple vehicle ownership and areas where people tend to park their cars outside.

I also searched for the soundness of this and found the same explanation about the probable origin of the tool's name being a metaphor of a cat.

Lo que conocemos como GATO, esa herramienta dedicada al elevamiento de cargas, se cree que está relacionada, efectivamente, con el mamífero del cual toma su nombre. Se trataría de una metáfora acerca de la manera de esconderse de los gatos debajo de las cosas, dejando solo su cola a la vista. De esta misma manera, de la herramienta solo vemos la palanca cuando se encuentra debajo de un coche.


What we know as a GATO [Spanish for "jack"], the tool used to lift heavy loads, is believed to be related to the mammal from which it takes its name [gato is also Spanish for "cat"]. It'd be a simile on how cats hide under things, leaving only their tails on sight. Likewise, the tool's lever is the only thing we see when it's put under a car.


La palabra gato es una palabra polisémica. Significa que es una palabra que significa cosas diferentes.

Gato es un animal y también es una herramienta para la elevación de autos; como es el caso de la palabra Gato hidráulico.


The similarity is found within the act of "climbing". In one mechanical jack design, up and down motion is obtained by means of interlocking gears. Like a cat scaling a pole,a "gato" climbs a toothed metal support to lift the load.

  • Maybe "tree" would be even better than "pole." This makes intuitive sense to me, and it hadn't occurred to me. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 4:04

Named after the reversing latch

Early jacks looked much different from today's devices:

Leonardo da Vinci Leonardo da Vinci

farm jack A farm jack

These early (farm) jacks always incorporated a reversing latch, or at least a blocking latch. Because of its curved shape and in analogy to a pistol/gun trigger, this part is called gatillo in Spanish.

reversing latch The silver coloured reversing latch of a farm jack.

labelled parts

Gatillo is the diminutive of el gato, a cannon inspection device that resembled the open paws of a cat. At about the same time, cannons and pistols started to have triggers. These had a similar curved shape as the fingers of el gato, the cannon inspection device. This is how the term gatillo came about for round shaped triggers and latches. See also: CAÑÓN NAVAL: DEFINICIÓN, PARTES Y UTENSILIOS.

El gato

The funny thing is that the word for "jack" went back to the (bigger) base word gato, after having passed over the diminutive gatillo for curved latches and pistol triggers.

In CAÑÓN NAVAL: DEFINICIÓN, PARTES Y UTENSILIOS. the word gato is also already used to denominate a cannon jack. This may have lead to some confusion to which gato was meant, although I suspect both gato devices were employed simultaneously. I am not a cannon maintenance expert though, nor armador.

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