Green’s Dictionary of Slang

whip the cat v.

1. [early 17C+] (also cat) to play a practical joke [‘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, seize the end of the cord, and pretending to whip the cat, haul the astonished booby through the water’ (Grose, 1785)].

2. [mid-17C–mid-18C] to get drunk.

3. [mid-17C–19C] to vomit through excessive drinking.

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

(a) [late 18C] to lay the blame of one’s offences on someone else.

(b) [mid-19C+] (Aus.) to complain ad nauseam, to whinge at length.

(c) [late 19C+] (Aus./N.Z.) to suffer guilt and remorse for past errors, to worry about something about which one can do nothing.

5. [late 18C+] 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].

6. [19C+] to shirk work on Mondays.

7. [early 19C] to idle on the job.