There’s not enough room to swing a cat here!

The speaker is apparently a prominent professional but as I was unsure of his gender I addressed the letter to Mx

The speaker is apparently a prominent professional but as I was unsure of his gender I addressed the letter to Mx

What is the meaning and origin of “not enough room to swing a cat”? (R. Harini, Trichy)

This relatively old expression is rarely heard nowadays. When you use this idiom to describe the apartment your friend is staying in, what you’re suggesting is that the place is very small; it is very cramped. When you say there was hardly any room in the stadium to swing a cat, what you mean is that the place was packed; it was very crowded.

Organizers underestimated the number of people who would show up. By the time the celeb got up to speak, there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat.

You’re supposed to be the vice president of the company. Look at your desktop. There’s not enough room to swing a cat.

There are several theories about the origin of this expression. Many scholars claim that the “cat” in the phrase refers to a whip, not the animal. The whip was called “nine-tailed cat”, which in everyday conversation was reduced to “cat”. It was mainly used to whip people – prisoners, soldiers, sailors, etc. If you want to hurt someone with a whip, you have to smack it; you have to take the whip back. This is not possible if the place where you are is small or cramped – if so, it does not allow you to swing the “cat”. Another theory advanced is that the cat in the idiom is indeed an animal. In the past, a live cat was swung by its tail and had archers fired at it. The poor animal was used for shooting practice.

What is the difference between ‘imminent’ and ’eminent’? (L. Uday, Hyderabad)

Both words consist of three syllables each, and the stress in both is on the first syllable. The words are pronounced ‘IM-i-nent’ and ‘EM-i-nent’ respectively; they both come from the Latin ‘minere’ meaning ‘to project’. “Eminent” is mostly used with people; this suggests that the individual is well known or famous. The word can also be used with someone who is highly regarded or respected in a particular profession.

The eminent scientist that the news channels talk about is my cousin.

Don’t be fooled by its appearance. He is an eminent lawyer.

“Imminent”, on the other hand, has nothing to do with people. It is normally used to suggest that something is about to happen – and that something is not always good.

According to the weather forecast, flooding is imminent.

There is an imminent danger of bankruptcy of your business.

Is the title “Mx” used with a man or a woman? (R. Sudhesh, Bangalore)

It can be used with both men and women. Unlike ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’, ‘Mx’ (pronounced like the word ‘mix’) is a gender neutral title. When you see a letter addressed to ‘Mx. Rao’, you don’t really know if the individual is male or female. When this title is used, only the person’s last name is included. The person’s first name is avoided – if the first name were included, then everyone would know the individual’s gender.

There is a letter addressed to Mx. Chaudhary.

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about in addition to homework.”

-Lily Tomlin

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