Posted by ESC on April 11, 2001
In Reply to: Poke in the eye posted by R. Berg on April 11, 2001
: : My grandfather used to use the above phrases. He would say 'It is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick' of payments or rewards that were very meager. (as in minimum wage is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. He also used to say that there were more ways to kill a cat than by choking it to death with butter to mean that 1. your solution to this problem is stupid/extreme 2. there are always more than 2 solutions to any problem.
: : Does anyone know the origins of these expressions?
: : thanks, dpp
: Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British," mentions ". . . poke in the eye . . ." as an Australian item in a group of similar phrases of which he says most seem to have originated late in the 19th century. This group includes "better than a kick in the a s s with a frozen boot" (Canadian) and "better than a slap across the belly with a wet fish" (US).
"Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996) : "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."
More on...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.