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cat-o'-nine-tails

[kat-uh-nahyn-teylz]
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noun, plural cat-o'-nine-tails.
  1. a whip, usually having nine knotted lines or cords fastened to a handle, used for flogging.

Origin of cat-o'-nine-tails

First recorded in 1685–95; so called in allusion to a cat's scratches
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for cat-o'-nine-tails

cat-o'-nine-tails

noun plural -tails
  1. a rope whip consisting of nine knotted thongs, used formerly to flog prisonersOften shortened to: cat
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cat-o'-nine-tails

n.

1690s, probably so called in reference to its "claws." It was a legal instrument of punishment in British Navy until 1881.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper