Green’s Dictionary of Slang

whip the cat v.

1. (also cat) to play a practical joke [see cit. 1785].

[[UK]Jonson Bartholomew Fair I.iv: I’ll be drawn with a good gib cat through the great pond at home].
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Catting, drawing a Fellow through a Pond with a Cat.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Cat whipping, or whipping the cat, a trick often practised on ignorant country fellows, by laying a wager with them that they may be pulled through a pond by a cat; the bet being made, a rope is fastened round the waist of the person to be catted and the end thrown across the pond, to which the cat is also fastened by a pack-thread, and three or four sturdy fellows are appointed to lead and whip the cat; these on a signal given, sieze the end of the cord, and pretending to whip the cat, haul the astonished booby through the water.
[UK]Sporting Mag. May XVIII 96/2: Cat-whipping, or Whipping the Cat – A sportive trick often practised on ignorant country fellows, vain of their strength.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.

2. to get drunk.

[UK]Rowlands Well met Gossip C: I laughed that my heart did ake thereat, To see the foolish fellow whip the Cat.
[UK]J. Taylor ‘A Thiefe’ in Works (1869) II 123: ’Tis counted Wisedome and great policy, / To be a Drunkard and the Cat to whip.
[UK]‘Mary Tattle-well’ Womens sharpe revenge 175: The first Health is call’d a Whiffe, the second a Slash, the third a Hunch, the fourth Thrust, the fift is call’d Pot-shaken, the sixth is seeing the Lions, the seventh he is scratch’d, the eighth, his Nose is dirty, the ninth he hath whipt the Catt, the tenth, he is fox’d, the eleventh, he is Bewitch’d, the twelfth, he is Blinde, and the thirteenth, and last, he is drunke.
[UK]Eighth Liberal Science n.p.: No man must call a Good-fellow Drunkard [...] But if at any time they spie that defect in another, they may without any forfeit or just exceptions taken, say, He is Foxt, He is Flaw’d, He is Fluster’d, He is Suttle, Cupshot, Cut in the Leg or Back, He hath seen the French King, He hath swallowed an Hair or a Taven-Token, he hath whipt the Cat, He hath been at the Scriveners and learned to make Indentures, He hath bit his Grannam, or is bit by a Barn Weasel.
[UK] ‘The Art of Drinking’ Wit’s Cabinet 138: He has whipt the Cat.
[UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy VI 132: Yet my Nose shall Challenge although it be flat, / A place with my Neighbours at whiping the Cat.

3. to vomit through excessive drinking.

[UK]J. Taylor in Nares Glossary (1822) I 144/1: For though he was drunke as any rat, / He hath but catch a fox, or whipt the cat .
[UK]R. Nares Gloss. (1888) I 143: To whip the cat. A jocular phrase for sickness from intoxication.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Stiffner and Jim’ in Roderick (1972) 125: He thought Bill was whipping the cat.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 24 Oct. 1/8: Oh the suffering and sorrow / When you ‘whip the cat’ tomorrow.
[Aus]J. Gunn We of the Never-Never (1962) 214: Most of ’em seem to think that when we’re not on the drink we’re whipping the cat or committing suicide.
[UK]M. Forrest Hibiscus Heart 100: They [drunken men] are pretty disgusting [...] but they never realize it when in liquor . . . and whipping the cat afterwards doesn’t seem to cure them.
[Aus]Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld) 1 Mar. 10/4: The cow [...] calls for a couple of pots. Chewin’ the beer, I’m whippin’ the cat.

4. in senses of blame, complaint [i.e. whip the cat that has spilt the milk over which one is crying].

(a) to lay the blame of one’s offences on someone else.

Phila. Ledger (PA) 19 June cited in Daily Chron. (1902) 5 July 5/1: ‘Whipping the Cat!’: ‘Mirabeau’s ashes were dispersed as belonging to a traitor, by the patriot Brissot, who is styled a villain by the patriot Egalité,’ [etc.].
[Aus]S. Gore Holy Smoke 56: It’s no good whipping the cat if a man’s such a dill as to come the double on anyone – like tryin’ to scale the trammie for your fare.

(b) (Aus.) to complain ad nauseam, to whinge at length.

[Aus][A. Harris] (con. 1820s) Settlers & Convicts 349: And now it was my turn to ‘whip the cat’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 20 Nov. 4/4: The paltry outsiders who have parted with their shillings and half-crowns and are ‘whipping the cat’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Oct. 31/2: His salary comes out of the revenue and his scandalously-unreasonable perquisites out of the pockets of litigants and other private sufferers. Undoubtedly this billet should receive attention when the States start to whip the cat.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘Uncle Jim’ Songs of a Sentimental Bloke 94: Say, it makes me feel fair mean / To whip the cat; an’ then see my Doreen.
[US]B. Grimshaw ‘Helen of the Hundred Waves’ in Sat. Eve. Post Mar. n.p.: That would be what old Pollock is whipping the cat about.
[Aus]N. Keesing Lily on the Dustbin 32: Cripes, don’t go near her over th’ road t’day, she’s whipping the cat all over the place!
[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 122/2: whip the cat to [...] make a fuss.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].

(c) (Aus./N.Z.) to suffer guilt and remorse for past errors, to worry about something about which one can do nothing.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 18 July 4/3: A man may be full of [the charity of the imagination] one day and empty as a drum the next. It is more an infection than a virtue. Even misers catch it occasionally. But they ‘whip the cat’ for it consumedly afterwards.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘A Double Buggy at Lahey’s Creek’ in Roderick (1972) 595: I ‘whipped the cat’ a bit, the first twenty miles or so, but then, I thought, what did it matter?
[Aus]G. Seagram Bushmen All 143: They were now sober and in their right minds. They [...] realised how dearly they had paid for ‘wetting their whistle.’ [...] ‘’Tis whipping the cat we are,’ said McDermott.
[Aus]W.H. Downing Digger Dialects 53: whip the cat — Experience chagrin.
[Aus](con. WWI) A.G. Pretty Gloss. Sl. [...] in the A.I.F. 1921–1924 (rev. t/s) n.p.: whip the cat. Experience chagrin [sic].
[Aus]K.S. Prichard Roaring Nineties 136: Gord, did we whip the cat! It was a chance of a lifetime we missed.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 255: Then I started whipping the cat for not having thought of it before.
[UK]R. McGregor-Hastie Compleat Migrant 106: Cat, to whip the: to bear malice, to cry over spilt milk.
[Aus]G.W. Turner Eng. Lang. in Aus. and N.Z. 100: A newspaper headline ‘Now Whips the Feline Hard’, [is] only intelligible if the phrase to whip the cat ‘to have regrets’ is known.
[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 122/2: whip the cat to moan or reproach yourself.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].

5. to work as an itinerant tailor, carpenter, locksmith, knife-grinder etc. [dial. whip the cat, to go from house to house as an itinerant tailor, such a job was unlikely to reap very rich rewards].

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: To whip the cat, is [...] a term among Taylors for working Jobs at private houses, as practised in the Country.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn) n.p.:
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]S. Judd Margaret (1851) I 19: [He] made shoes, a trade he prosecuted in an itinerating manner from house to house, ‘whipping the cat,’ as it was termed.
[Ire]S.G. Goodrich Recollections I 74: Twice a year, the tailor came to the house and fabricated the semi-annual stock of clothes for the male members, this being called ‘whipping the cat.’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor II 366/2: In the hands of a tailor who ‘whipped the cat’ (or went out to work at his customer’s houses).
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 648: Whipping the cat, an old English phrase used only by tailors and carpenters, has maintained its existence in New England, Pennsylvania, and a few other States, where it denotes the annual visit of a tailor to repair the clothes of a household. It is said to have originated in a very rough practical joke, which bears the same name in Hampshire, England, and of which, it is surmised, the tailor may have been the victim.
[UK]St James’s Gazette 2 May n.p.: Mr. Hugh Haliburton dilates upon the custom of ‘whipping the cat’ – i.e. working for people at their houses, as was once the wont of Scottish tailors [...] [F&H].
H. Haliburton In Scot. Fields 228: ‘Whipping the cat’ [...] was principally, and perhaps primarily used of tailors [...] But Snip, though its most devoted and persistent follower, had no right of patent in the method. Such other craftsmen as shoemakers, saddlers, and joiners occasionally ‘whipped the cat.’.
[UK]Eve. Teleg. 12 Feb. 6/5: The ‘whip the cat’ tailor [...] toured the countryside.
[UK]E. Cross Tailor and Ansty 27: The next piece of business was called ‘whipping the cat’. The tailor would come and he would take the door off the hinges and put straw under it and sit down on it and cut and sew that garments he was to make on it.

6. to shirk work on Mondays.

[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.

7. to idle on the job.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 22: ‘Whipping the cat’ is said of persons who have business on hand, or trade.