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BS: Swing a cat - origins

Mr Red 25 Oct 01 - 01:31 PM
Mrrzy 25 Oct 01 - 01:32 PM
Amos 25 Oct 01 - 01:43 PM
MMario 25 Oct 01 - 01:44 PM
GUEST,John Leeder 25 Oct 01 - 01:46 PM
Whistle Stop 25 Oct 01 - 01:55 PM
Greyeyes 25 Oct 01 - 01:56 PM
Mr Red 25 Oct 01 - 01:58 PM
Mountain Dog 25 Oct 01 - 02:25 PM
Allan C. 25 Oct 01 - 02:42 PM
MMario 25 Oct 01 - 02:48 PM
Sorcha 25 Oct 01 - 02:52 PM
Gareth 25 Oct 01 - 03:20 PM
MMario 25 Oct 01 - 03:51 PM
Allan C. 25 Oct 01 - 04:10 PM
MMario 25 Oct 01 - 04:25 PM
Margaret V 25 Oct 01 - 04:32 PM
SharonA 25 Oct 01 - 05:18 PM
The Walrus 25 Oct 01 - 06:17 PM
SeanM 25 Oct 01 - 06:24 PM
Eric the Viking 25 Oct 01 - 06:43 PM
Gareth 25 Oct 01 - 06:46 PM
Donuel 25 Oct 01 - 06:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 25 Oct 01 - 07:26 PM
R! 25 Oct 01 - 09:08 PM
Greyeyes 26 Oct 01 - 06:19 AM
MMario 26 Oct 01 - 08:34 AM
GUEST,Stavanger Bill 26 Oct 01 - 09:05 AM
Charley Noble 26 Oct 01 - 09:27 AM
Giac 26 Oct 01 - 12:27 PM
The Walrus at work 26 Oct 01 - 01:00 PM
Fortunato 26 Oct 01 - 02:01 PM
Dead Horse 26 Oct 01 - 03:51 PM
Mr Red 27 Oct 01 - 09:29 AM
Greyeyes 29 Oct 01 - 03:57 AM
GUEST,Stavanger Bill 29 Oct 01 - 04:55 AM

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Subject: Swing a cat - origins
From: Mr Red
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:31 PM

a colleague offered two derivations for "Not enough room to swing a cat"
1 cat-o-nine tails, you need plenty of room to wield a whip.
2 there is a ship called a cat (short for what?) and it was a yardstick for the size of a harbour, if you could not turn the ship (swing / haul) then any ship larger would have difficulty getting in or out.
so can any swinging Mudcatters crack this one? I have a feline there are more puns on the way.............


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Mrrzy
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:32 PM

I've heard only the first, not the second. We need some nautical folk around, either way, though.

Kitten you have put some of that feline into your post?


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Amos
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:43 PM

Ya know, before I went to sea and learned about cat-o-nine-tails, I always had a picture of Tom Sawyer when I heard this expression, his little eyes squinting as he whirled around and around in the pleasant Missouri sunlight holding a large dead alleycat by the tail.

But I guess that's just me!! :>)

A


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: MMario
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:44 PM

Meg Davis wrote the song *grin* (which is excellent and can be found on the latest Pyrates Royale CD 'Love at Fyrst Nyte')

I'd suspect #1


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: GUEST,John Leeder
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:46 PM

One of Patrick O'Brien's novels offered the insight that, on a man-of-war, some punishment was dispensed with the cat-o'-nine-tails, or "cat", and the Rule was "All hands on deck to witness punishment." Everybody on board, with the exception of women passengers, if any, had to watch. When a large number of marines or soldiers were on board in addition to the crew, they would be paraded on deck, the decks would get very crowded, and there would be "hardly enough room to swing a cat".

I can't vouch for the authenticity of this, but it comes from a series believed to be well-researched, and it rings true to my untutored ear.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:55 PM

That has always been my understanding as well; that it came from the need to clear enough space on deck for the man swinging the cat-o-nine-tails.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Greyeyes
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:56 PM

According to Brewer It has nothing to do with things nautical.

"Not room to swing a cat. Swinging cats as a mark for sportsmen was at one time a favourite amusement. There were several varieties of this diversion. Sometimes two cats were swung by their tails over a rope. Sometimes a cat was swung to the bough of a tree in a bag or sack. Sometimes it was enclosed in a leather bottle."


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Mr Red
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 01:58 PM

I would like the ship story a lot more if I had ever heard of a floating cat
dog maybe (barque), brig, wherry, lighter, humber keel, but never a cat.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Mountain Dog
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 02:25 PM

My introduction to the phrase came from Mark Twain in his "Innocents Abroad", to wit:

"Notwithstanding all this furniture, there was still room to turn around in, but not to swing a cat in, at least with entire security to the cat. However, the room was large, for a ship's stateroom, and was in every way satisfactory."


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Allan C.
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 02:42 PM

Threadrift warning!

I can't think of a cat 'o nine tails without thinking of my father's description of being whipped by his own father who used a razor "strop" (never pronouonced "strap" for some reason). For those who don't know of these things, they were usually comprised of three or more wide strips of leather (about 4 inches) of varying roughness. They were used to hone the edges of "straight" razors. When used for punishment, each stroke was multiplied by the succeeding impacts of the other strips.

I mention this because I believe that this was not an uncommon use for this implement and can imagine reference to it in a folk song or two.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: MMario
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 02:48 PM

Why would you call a strop a strap? Allan - my Dad used a car antenna - we would have been happy to have him use a strop!


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Sorcha
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 02:52 PM

CATamaran is a kind of boat. My dad used a razor strop, too! Damn things hurt! My dad (when he was a kid) also used to tie 2 tomcats tails together and throw them over the clothesline. Had to use a jacknife taped to a stick to cut them apart. After his mother found out, he got "stropped" too.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Gareth
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 03:20 PM

Swing a cat- I've read of a Cat being a distictive Mediteranean rig for a small coaster. There is also a Chesepeake Bay ? distinctive work/fishing boat known as a Cat. 1 mast rigged well forward with a ?? lose footed triangular sail - perhaps a US of A catter with nautical knowledge can fill this in more accuratley.

But to swing a cat, manouvering a boat with warps so that she turned round in a dock or cut to my knowledge, in the Uk at least, was known as Winding (Pro Wynd)

Personally I prefer the Cat of 9 tails version. Its usage was not confined to the Royal Navy. The army and the criminal justice system used it as well.

Ah well its a good story.

Gareth


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Subject: Add:Swing a cat
From: MMario
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 03:51 PM

SWING A CAT (Meg Davis - 1985)

It was just after midnight when I heard the captain shout
"Curse the Devil, behold, but there are rats about!"
They were streaming up the gangplank they were crawling up the sheet
Every sailor had a hundred snapping at his feet.

"What can we do?!" cried the sailors as the rats began to dance
"It's a hopeless situation, but we have one chance"
"Every man go ashore, searching this way and that-
Don't dare to show your face until you find a cat.

Well, we sprang to the docks and we bolted through the town
every young man and old man searching up and down
three hundred sailors on the loose what do you think of that?
And every salty sailor surely found a cat.

Back to the ship we went running with our prizes
There were cats of many colors There were cats of many sizes
When the rats saw us coming sure they all began to shout
"Curse the Devil, behold," "but there are cats about!"


Swing it high, Swing it low
If it hollers, let it go
If it's drown
there's only one way to take care of that
You must grab it by it's feet,
swing it high and swing it neat
You might save a life at that
If you can swing the cat.

Well we let our kitties loose on that unsuspecting hoard
and the rats, by the thousands scrambled overboard
They were swept out to sea every germy little tail
with the morning light upon us then we hoisted sail.

Now we sail the mighty ocean and we're such a happy crew
with the kitties here to help us now there's nothing left to do
If a cat catches two fish he is sure to give you one
And he'll sing you off to sleep when your day is done.

Swing it high, Swing it low
If it hollers, let it go
If it's drown
there's only one way to take care of that
You must grab it by it's feet,
swing it high and swing it neat
You might save a life at that
If you can swing the cat.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Allan C.
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 04:10 PM

Well, I'll be damned, Mario! I honestly thought it was a colloquial pronunciation!


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: MMario
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 04:25 PM

Isn't is amazing how much we find out that our parents did know correctly as we get older? *smirk*


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Margaret V
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 04:32 PM

After reading Robert Darnton's book of essays, "The Great Cat Massacre," I understood that swinging a cat is one of the less nasty things Europeans have seen fit to do with cats over the centuries.... actually the essay which gives Darnton's book about French cultural history its name can be read in its entirety on the web at the following location: www.geocities.com/pashathecat/History/Cat_Massacre.html

It's fascinating reading. Margaret


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: SharonA
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 05:18 PM

I had my cat irradiated this week (treatment for a benign – I hope – thyroid tumor). I bring him home tomorrow. If he glows, then I could swing him as a lantern!

But they told me he won't glow. Damn!


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: The Walrus
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 06:17 PM

As I understood it, a "cat" was a form of small sailing collier (I seem to remember reading/hearing that it was a Northcounty term), but I'm probably wrong (nothing new there then). The Cat-o-nine tails is the better story though.

Letting the subject drift slightly, doesn't "Face the Music" also relate to flogging?

Walrus


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: SeanM
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 06:24 PM

I've gotta plug Meg - love her work, and it's available at her site.

I'm particularly partial to Swing a Cat, as well as Captain Jack and the Mermaid.

Good schtuff.

m


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Eric the Viking
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 06:43 PM

So... Someone watched "How" this week in CTV!!! (both explanations were on "How" a childrens prog on TV)


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Gareth
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 06:46 PM

Walrus - I do believe you'r correct.

Folk memories suggest that Dick Wittingtons cat refered to his fleet of ships.

Gareth


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Donuel
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 06:50 PM

From the 1930's I heard the 1st expression made by Don Ameche in a segment of the Bickersons regarding how smal their kitchen was.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 07:26 PM

I've always taken it to mean swinging a Moggy. But what I've never been clear about is whether you are supposed to envisage it as swinging it by the tail, which means quite a lot of room to spare, or cradling it in your arms, in which case there is very little room indeed.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: R!
Date: 25 Oct 01 - 09:08 PM

Swing a 'Cat? Isn't that what the caller says right after the do-si-do at the Mudcat Square Dance? Then you go into the grand right and left around the square. Sheesh!


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Greyeyes
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 06:19 AM

The millennium edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable contains the following entry:

""Have no room to swing a cat". To be in a restricted or cramped area. There are various suggested origins of the phrase. Swinging cats by their tails as a mark for sportsmen was once a popular amusement. Cat was an abbreviation for cat-o'-nine-tails and in view of the restricted space in the old sailing ships where the cat was often administered, the expression is more likely to refer to this kind of cat. However, cat is also an old Scottish word for rogue, and if the derivation is from this, the 'swing' is that of the condemned rogue hanging from the gallows.

"At London I am pent up in frouzy lodgings, where there is not room to swing a cat." (Tobias Smollett: The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, ii (1771)."

The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase & Fable mentions only the cat-o'-nine-tails version.

I can't find any reliable source that mentions manoeuvring a boat or ship in a confined space as the origin of the phrase, but nobody seems certain enough to come down firmly on the side of one or other of the suggested origins.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: MMario
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 08:34 AM

I kinda like the one about hanging a rogue!


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: GUEST,Stavanger Bill
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 09:05 AM

I would tend to go for the nautical cat o' nine tails. In the Royal Navy if a man was sentenced to be flogged, the routine was that he was put in leg irons and given a length of rope from which he had to make the cat. The following morning at the appointed time hands would be mustered to witness punishment. Today both watches of the hands are still mustered to hear punishment warrants read before the offender.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Charley Noble
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 09:27 AM

Sailing boats known as "Cats" are still alive and well here in Maine, a traditional working rig characterized by one large gaff rigged mailsail, the single mast set very close to the stem or bow of the boat with no jib sails. My brother and I used to cruise around Robinhood Cove in one of these back in the late 1950's, plundering and sinking whatever luckless seafarers we encountered. Ah, them was great days! Too bad we didn't have a cat-of-nine-tails.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Giac
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 12:27 PM

A variation from when I was a kid in the dark ages:

There's not enough room to cuss a cat without getting fur in your mouth.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: The Walrus at work
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 01:00 PM

Stavanger Bill,

"...In the Royal Navy if a man was sentenced to be flogged, the routine was that he was put in leg irons and given a length of rope from which he had to make the cat..." Certainly in the "Nelsonian" era, the cat would have been made by the Boatswain's Mate, not the prisoner. It was made to a fixed pattern regarding the length and thickness of handle and of tails (with oddities like knots in the tails *only* for theft aboard ship etc.). The "cat" was then sewn into a baize bag, to be opened when all hands mustered to receive punishment (possible origin of "Letting the cat out of the bag"?).

Regards

Walrus


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Fortunato
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 02:01 PM

I agree with Amos and Mountain Dog. Twain may have found it lying about in southern folklore but he distributed the phrase nationally. His alternate method for curing warts was 'stumpwater' which my father knew as a 'sure cure' in LA....Lower Alabama.

cheers, fortunato.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Dead Horse
Date: 26 Oct 01 - 03:51 PM

Check out http://www.fortogden.com/nauticalterms.html and there are others that will open the old eyes.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Mr Red
Date: 27 Oct 01 - 09:29 AM

Thanks for the veritable - er - catalogue
er.... I'll get my coat.........


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: Greyeyes
Date: 29 Oct 01 - 03:57 AM

The Smollett quotation above predates Twain by some time. I'm not sure if the Smollett quotation is the earliest recorded reference to the phrase, but it's the earliest I've found. Smollett was Scottish, which may give a nudge towards the hanging rogue theory, however, he also served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy, so must have witnessed many floggings, as well as treating the victims. Take your pick.


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Subject: RE: BS: Swing a cat - origins
From: GUEST,Stavanger Bill
Date: 29 Oct 01 - 04:55 AM

Thanks for putting me straight Walrus, what I said in my note was what I was told while I was in HMS Victory (The Barracks). I was in between courses and the information was given as part of the training given to guides taking visitors round HMS Victory (the ship).


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This Thread Is Closed.


Mudcat time: 27 May 7:14 PM EDT

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