Posted by Gary on May 31, 2005
In Reply to: Cat out of the bag posted by Edward on May 31, 2005
: Cat out of the bag - I was told this has a nautical derivation, closely linked to 'no room to swing a cat'. Both terms referring to the cat of nine tails, rather than an actual moggy. Apparently the 'cat' in question was kept in a muslin bag and you were obviously in serious trouble if the cat came out of the bag.
: It all sounds very plausible, especially with other popular English sayings having a nautical derivation, such as square meal etc. - but is it fact?
Ah, plausibility. Where would we be without it?
For 'cat out of the bag', see http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/227250.html
Many phrases do have a nautical derivation. I wouldn't be so quick to include 'square meal' though. It's reported in some places to be from the Royal Navy, where it's claimed they served food on square wooden plates. I've not been able to substantiate the plate geometry with the Royal Navy museum, although they don't rule it out. The phrase itself is said by the OED to be of US origin and they have no citations earlier than 1868.