history of the cat-o’-nine-tails

  cat-o’-nine-tails (1866-79) – photograph: National Maritime Museum     The noun cat-o’-nine-tails denotes a rope whip with nine knotted cords, formerly used, especially at sea, to flog offenders. This instrument of punishment was authorised in the British navy and army until 1881—cf. also to run the gauntlet. The word is first recorded in Love for […]

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origin of the phrase ‘no room to swing the cat’

  Q. Once hairy scenter did transgress,      Whose dame, both powerful and fierce,      Tho’ hairy scenter took delight      To do the thing both fair and right,      Upon a Sabbath day. A. An old Woman whipping her Cat for Catching Mice on a Sunday. from The True Trial […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘the toast of the town’

  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Kats – illustration from Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places (1873), by Walter Thornbury (The Kit-Cat, or Kit-Kat, Club in London was a club of Whig politicians and men of letters founded in the reign (1685-8) of James II; its […]

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origin of ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’

  The phrase hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is a misquotation from The mourning bride, a tragedy by the English playwright and poet William Congreve (1670-1729), produced and published in 1697: Vile and ingrate! too late thou shalt repent The base Injustice thou hast done my Love. Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past […]

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meaning and origin of ‘money for old rope’

  Money for Old Rope SACKING, RAGS, OLD CAR BATTERIES SCRAP & SALVAGE Our Lorry Will Collect It Cash Waiting Grantham Salvage Co. INNER STREET. Phone 1332 advertisement published in The Grantham Journal (Lincolnshire) on 15th July 1949     The phrase money for old rope has various meanings: a profitable return for little or no trouble; a very easy job; a person […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to sleep like a top’

whip and top – St Fagans National History Museum     MEANING   to sleep like a top: to sleep very soundly   ORIGIN   In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explains that, unlikely as it may seem, the top referred to here is the child’s toy which seems […]

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