Posted by Bernard Rentin on June 30, 2000
In Reply to: Swing a cat posted by James Briggs on June 30, 2000
: : I always believed that this referred to a 'cat of nine tails', as you said for whipping.
: If there's not enough room to swing a cat then space is very tight; the room is very tiny. The nine thronged whip was used as punishment at sea. Because space was at a premium below decks there was not enough room to wield the whip; in consequence the whipping always took place on deck.
: Evidence against the above origin comes from the fact that the expression was in use in the 1500s and the cat o'nine tails was not invented until the mid 1600s. Thus it may be that the saying truly involves felines, since there used to be a "sport" of swinging cats by their tails as targets for archers.
It wasn't a sport; it was essential target practice for the yeomen of England who so successfully plied their trade on the battlefields of Europe. In any case the use of cats could be excused on the grounds that they were a Witch's 'Familiar'; all part of the Church's many schemes to keep the peasants under control.