Mysteries of the English Language

English is a wonderful language.  But where do some of the words, phrases and sayings come from?

For example when someone says, “There isn’t room to swing a cat”  we know they are talking about a confined space.  But why would someone swing a cat, surely the English love their pets far too much to swing a cat?

We can thank our rich maritime heritage for this saying.  The “cat” referred to is the “cat o’ nine tails”; a whip used to punish sailors.  To use a “cat” effectively there had to be enough space to swing the whip to its full capacity.  In a confined space there wasn’t room to swing a cat.

To “let the cat out of the bag” means to reveal secrets or facts and may go back to when the cat of nine tails was kept in a bag.  Once it was out of the bag it was certain that someone was to be whipped. But this is often disputed by those that claim it is from the practice of selling piglets in bags. They were put in bags to stop them running away. Unscrupulous vendors would substitute the high value piglet for a feral cat.  And people would know of this deception if the cat were let out of the bag.

More Mysteries of the English Language are revealed on various ESOL, IELTS and other English courses at

Plus we'll we'll be publishing more English language tips and tricks at




Stefan Drew