noun, plural cat-o'-nine-tails.

a whip, usually having nine knotted lines or cords fastened to a handle, used for flogging.

Nearby words

  1. cat-cry syndrome,
  2. cat-eyed,
  3. cat-foot,
  4. cat-harpin,
  5. cat-o'-mountain,
  6. cat-scratch disease,
  7. cat-scratch fever,
  8. cat-tail,
  9. cat-train,
  10. cat.

Origin of cat-o'-nine-tails

First recorded in 1685–95; so called in allusion to a cat's scratches Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for cat-o'-nine-tails


noun plural -tails

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



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