Sunday, August 2, 2009
Search: swing a dead cat origin
Why: I don't remember. It was in something I read. It seems like one of those idioms that came out of the South.
Answer: It probably comes from the British Navy. Unruly soldiers were flogged with the cat o' nine tails. In a small space, the punisher "can't swing a dead cat without hitting something" - or doesn't have enough room to get a proper swing.
Source: IdiomSite, Phrases.co.uk
The More You Know: That may also be the origin of "let the cat out of the bag," as the cat o' nine tails was kept in a bag. However, this wouldn't really mean that someone disclosed a secret.
Another possible origin is related to the archaic Southern saying "don't buy a pig in a poke," which means you shouldn't buy something without examining it first. A "poke" is a sack or bag, and the pig inside may be no pig at all - but maybe a lower-value animal, like a kitty.