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cat-o'-nine-tails


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An instrument of punishment with which, in the days of sail, seamen were flogged on their bare backs. It was made of nine lengths of cord, each about 46 centimetres (18 in.) long and with three knots in each, fixed to the end of a larger rope which was used as a handle, and was used in almost every navy in the world. In both the US and the British Navies a captain was limited by regulations to ordering a maximum of twelve lashes for any crime. Any greater number could, in theory, only be awarded by a court martial, but few took any notice of this rule. In the US Navy also it was often avoided by finding an offender guilty of several crimes, and awarding the maximum number of lashes for each of them. The use of the cat-o'-nine-tails was ended in the US Navy in 1851. It was suspended in the Royal Navy in 1879 but had been falling into disuse long before that. See also cobbing; ‘combing the cat’; flogging round the fleet; ‘no room to swing a cat’; ‘rogue's march’; ‘three sisters’.

Subjects: History


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