The "cat" refers to "The cat of nine tails" which was a short whip with nine tails used to punish sailors. To effectively swing the cat needs quite a bit of room so things would be moved out of the way before punishment could be effected. Until then there was "not enough room to swing a cat".
By SailingQuiz November 2019 Category: Nautical Saying
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What does Not enough room to swing a cat mean?
What is the nautical origin of the phrase "Not enough room to swing a cat"?
Definition of the nautical phrase "Not enough room to swing a cat".