Wednesday 1 April 2009

No Room to Swing a Cat

This is the origin of the phrase, "there is no room to swing a cat". The word "cat" in this instance refers to an instrument of punishment, a form of whip, used in the British navy used in the 17th and 18th centuries (and probably other countries). The whip had nine separate knotted thongs and its full name was a "cat-o'-nine-tails" (a cat of nine tails). The word o' was a shortened version of the word of.

Navy personnel were punished by being flogged with the "cat". This happened above decks as down below it was too cramped. There wasn't enough room for the person enforcing the punishment to swing the whip, the cat-o'-nine-tails.

One last point. The reason why the whip's name is based on the humble cat, is because it cut the skin of the seaman and left scars that were reminiscent of the damage done by a cat, presumably a large wildcat.

Here are a couple of young men trying it out!!.......

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