Room to swing a cat

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There's a proverb in the English language, commonly used to describe small rooms and small spaces: it's the "not enough room to swing a cat" proverb. Here's an example of it: when you show your friend the bedroom of your new apartment, they might tell you: "there isn't even enough room to swing a cat in here!" When you hear this, you'll probably look around, nod your head, and reply: "yeah, I know... but for fifty bucks a week, it'll do". The conversation will continue, and this odd little proverb will soon be forgotten.

But have you ever stopped to think about what this proverb means? I mean, seriously: who the hell swings cats? Why would someone tell you that there isn't enough room to swing a cat somewhere? How do they know? Have they tried? Is it vitally important that the room is big enough to swing a cat in? If so, then whoever resides in that room:

  1. is somewhat disturbed; and
  2. shouldn't own a cat.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong - I'm more a dog person myself, so my knowledge of cats is limited - but my understanding has always been that swinging cats around in a circular arc (possibly repeatedly) is generally not a good idea. Unless your cat gets a bizarre sense of pleasure from being swung around, or your cat has suddenly turned vicious and you're engaged in mortal combat with it, or you've just had a really bad day and need to take your anger out on something that's alive (and that can't report you to the police), or there's some other extraneous circumstance, I would imagine that as a cat owner you generally wouldn't display your love and affection for your feline friend in this manner.

Picture this: someone's looking at an open house. They go up to the real estate agent, and ask: "excuse me, but is there enough room to swing a cat in here? You see, I have a cat, and I like to swing it - preferably in my bedroom, but any room will do - so it's very important that the main bedroom's big enough." I'm sure real estate agents get asked that one every day!

What would the response be? Perhaps: "well, this room's 5.4m x 4.2m, and the average arm is 50cm long from finger to shoulder, and the average cat is roughly that much again. So if you're going to be doing full swings, that's at least a 2m diameter you'll be needing. So yeah, there should be plenty of space for it in here!"

I'm guessing that this proverb dates back to medieval times, when tape measures were a rare commodity, and cats were in abundance. For lack of a better measuring instrument, it's possible that cats became the preferred method of checking that a room had ample space. After all, a room that you can swing a cat around in is fairly roomy. But on the flip side, they must have gone through a lot of cats back then.

Also, if swinging animals around is your thing, then it's clear that cats are the obvious way to go. Dogs dribble too much (saliva would fly around the room); birds would just flap away; rabbits are too small to have much fun with; and most of the other animals (e.g. horses, cows, donkeys) are too big for someone to even grab hold of their legs, let alone to get them off the ground. If someone told you that a room was big enough to swing a cow around in, it just wouldn't sound right. You'd wonder about the person saying it. You'd wonder about the room. You'd wonder about the physics of the whole thing. Basically, you'd become very concerned about all of the above.

In case you know anyone who's in the habit of swinging cats, here's a little sign that you can stick on your bedroom door, just to let them know that funny business with cats is not tolerated in your corner of the world:

No cat swinging
No cat swinging

I hope that gives you a bit more of an insight into the dark, insidious world of cat swinging. Any comments or suggestions, feel free to leave them below.

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Nice article, hehe. just thought i'd dro pa lien to say that the phrase actually refers to the "Cat o nine tails" torturing device. Can't gt a good swing to whip someone if there isn't much room! ;)


This originated with administering discipline on a ship via the cat-o-nine tails. Below decks there was rarely enough room to do this, so typically it was done on deck. The recipient was tied to a rack to hold out their arms and expose their back.

Mike Crowl

Really enjoyed the humour in this piece. Hope you don't mind, but I've copied the anti-swinging-cats sign to a post I've just done. I've also included a link to this page, so hopefully you'll get some additional readers as a result.

Joanne Sanderson

After reading the humorous post about the origins of a the phrase "not enough room to swing a cat", I couldn't help but wonder if the rooms in the kit homes NSW friends bought are big enough to swing a cat in. Kit homes are the epitome of stylish modern dwellings so I am curious as to whether rooms are still made large enough to swing a cat if you wanted to (which I don't)! What an amazing expression but a little research actually doesn't uncover much about the origins of the expression. Of course that doesn't stop it from creating a vivid mental image. But I got to wondering if it matters whether you bought a house like the OzKit Homes Balmoral (smallish home) or if you had to own a house like their Lifestyle 305 (much larger) to be able to freely swing a cat. Come to think of it, there is another expression to keep in mind: Curiosity killed the cat!