Favorite

Cat tales:

A reference in the Arkansas Times to a place being so small “there wasn’t room to swing a cat” has prompted a question about the origin of the old phrase.

The Word Detective says there are two theories. One is that the “cat” in this case is the “cat o’ nine tails,” a nine-thonged whip once used to discipline troublesome sailors. The welts it left on the subject’s back looked like giant cat scratches. These whippings usually took place on the open deck, because — according to the theory — below deck there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat.

“The other, less cat-friendly theory is that the phrase refers to literally swinging a cat around by its tail,” The Word Detective writes. “This version seems to have quite a bit more evidence in its favor, the phrase having come into use in the mid-17th century and being used with clear reference to actual cats ever since, including in Charles Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield.’ ”

That leaves unexplained the reason why a person would swing a cat. To bash its brains out? For the sheer enjoyment some people derive from being cruel to animals? (The Arkansas Farm Bureau makes sure those people are protected in this state.)


Sam’s song:

Keith Garrison writes, “Seems to me that it’s wrong to use both of’ and ’s, as in ‘He was a friend of Sam’s.’ Isn’t the ’s unnecessary? I always want to ask ‘Friend of Sam’s what?’ Sam’s brother, Sam’s dog, Sam’s girl?”

Some authorities agree that the double possessive is redundant and should be avoided. But there are at least as many on the other side of the question. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage says “This age-old idiom has appeared consistently since the days of Middle English. And it is widely approved … ‘that boy of Henry’s,’ ‘friends of my father’s,’ ‘hobbies of Jack’s.’ ”

It may seem illogical, but logic doesn’t always carry the day in questions of usage.


Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

  |  

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Doug Smith

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

  • An open line for Sunday

    An open line.
    • Sep 24, 2017
  • City plans more spending on 30 Crossing

    The Little Rock City Board meets Tuesday to set an agenda for the following week and among the "consent" items is a new $175,000 with Nelson/Nygaard consultants to "assist with a comprehensive review" of the 30 Crossing project, otherwise known as the bigger concrete ditch the Department of Transportation wants to tear through the heart of Little Rock.
    • Sep 24, 2017
  • NFL owners rise to defense of players against Trump and false patriots

    Many football team owners have risen to the defense of players against Donald Trump criticism as yet another racially fraught issue seems likely to gain increasing heat thanks to Trump's rhetoric.
    • Sep 24, 2017
  • More »

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Latest in Words

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Sex on campus

    • Here we see a "social scientist" who begins with an ad hominem argument, and then…

    • on September 24, 2017
  • Re: Sex on campus

    • Once again commentators blame the victim. Social scientists, of whom I am one, regularly find…

    • on September 22, 2017
  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • Shiny, nobody is saying that Hillary isn't entitled to speak. Shit, the more she talks,…

    • on September 21, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation