catch (one) napping

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catch (one) napping

To exploit or capitalize on one's inattention (or, sometimes, literal sleep). We were able to sneak into the building because we caught the security guard napping. I scored a goal after I caught their defenseman napping.
See also: catch, nap

catch someone napping

 and catch someone off balance; catch someone up short
to come upon someone who is unprepared; to surprise someone. (See also asleep at the switch.) The enemy soldiers caught our army napping. The thieves caught the security guard napping. I didn't expect you so soon. You caught me off balance. The teacher asked a trick question and caught me up short. The robbers caught Ann off balance and stole her purse.
See also: catch, nap

catch napping

Surprise, take unawares. This term is often used in the passive, as in The United States was really caught napping the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It originated in the mid-1500s as to be taken napping. Also see under off guard.
See also: catch, nap

catch someone napping

(of an action or event) find someone off guard and unprepared to respond. informal
See also: catch, nap, someone

catch somebody ˈnapping

(informal) find somebody not prepared or not paying attention, and perhaps gain an advantage over them as a result: Chelsea’s defence was caught napping in the final moments of the game when Jones scored his second goal for Liverpool.
Nap means ‘sleep’, usually for a short time and especially during the day.
See also: catch, nap, somebody