Posted by ESC on February 01, 2000
In Reply to: There is more than one way to skin a cat posted by R. Amelio on February 01, 2000
: Can anyone provide information on the origin and original meaning of this phrase.
I don't have a definitive answer but here's some information. Does anyone else have a take on this? Does the expression come from the little-boy exercise, or vice versa?
SKIN THE CAT - According to Charles Earle Funk in "A Hog on Ice" (Harper & Row, New York, 1948) the expression "to skin the cat" refers to a boy's gymnastic trick: "In America, as any country boy knows, this means to hang by the hands from a branch or bar, draw the legs up through the arms and over the branch, and pull oneself up into a sitting position. As we must abide by the record, we cannot say positively that the name for this violent small-boy exercise is more than a century old, but it is highly likely that Ben Franklin or earlier American lads had the same name for it. No one got around to putting it into print until about 1845. One can't be sure why the operation was called 'skinning the cat,' but maybe some mother, seeing it for the first time, saw in it some resemblance to the physical operation of removing the pelt from a cat, first from the forelegs and down over the body." Mr. Funk doesn't say WHY anyone would actually skin a cat, but anyway.
"Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996) lists the expression "more than one way to skin a cat" but doesn't really address the origin. Mr. Titelman does say it dates back to the 1678: "MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT --There are many ways to do something. The proverb appeared in John Ray's collection of English proverbs in 1678, and is first attested in the United States in 'John Smith's Letters' . 'There are more ways to kill a cat besides choking him to death' is a variant of the saying. The words 'with butter' or 'on cream' may replace the words 'to death' in the latter version."
Tough on cats!!