What Does the Expression “Not Enough Room To Swing a Cat” Mean and How Did the Idiom Originate?

This colorful phrase evokes strange images of feline cruelty.

In fact, it has nothing to do with cats, but the real story is at least as cruel.

The “cat” is a cat-o’-nine-tails, a type of whip used to discipline sailors on old sailing ships.

what does the expression not enough room to swing a cat mean and how did the idiom originate

The cat-o’-nine-tails has one handle attached to nine thin strips of leather, each perhaps three feet long.

The cat-o’-nine-tails would be used to administer lashings that would sting and leave welts on the recipient.

The whippings would take place on the deck, because below deck there was not enough ceiling height to swing a cat, o’-nine-tails.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for zippyfacts.com. Born in New York, she loves interesting random facts from all over the world.