not enough room to swing a cat

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Attested 1665, by which point already in common use; perhaps of naval slang origin.

While it is frequently stated that the phrase is derived from cat-o’-nine-tails (type of whip),[1] this latter term is only attested from 1695, and hence this idiom presumably derived from literally swinging a cat around, as by the tail.[2]


not enough room to swing a cat (uncountable)

  1. (informal) Very little space (available) (of a very small room).
    • 1665, Richard Kephale Medela Pestilentiae[2]
      They had not space enough (according to the vulgar saying) to swing a Cat in.
    • 1960, P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Offing, chapter VIII:
      My own apartment, to take a case in point, was a sort of hermit's cell in which one would have been hard put to it to swing a cat, even a smaller one than Augustus, not of course that one often wants to do much cat-swinging.

Usage notes[edit]

Not widely used in 21st century American English.




  1. ^ For example, the cover of Not enough room to swing a cat: naval slang and its everyday usage, 2008, Martin Robson, features a cat-o’-nine-tails
  2. 2.0 2.1 No room to swing a cat” in Gary Martin, The Phrase Finder, 1997–, retrieved 26 February 2017.