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There is more than one way to skin a cat

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 03, 2010 at 18:51

In Reply to: There is more than one way to skin a cat posted by Smokey Stover on August 03, 2010 at 04:33:

: : : : What does the phrase "There is more than one way to skin a cat" come from and what does it mean?

: : : It means there is more than one way to do something. From the archives:

: : : 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."

: : "Mr. Funk doesn't say WHY anyone would actually skin a cat"
: : - Why, to sell the skin, of course. Cat skins were a highly marketable commodity in the 18th and 19th centuries; cat fur was not only used as a cheap fur trimming, but also to make felt for hats and the like. Hence a traditional proverb, "You can have of a cat but her skin", meaning "you can't get more value out of anything than it intrinsically has" - the point being that you couldn't eat or sell the meat of a dead cat, but you could sell or use its skin. (VSD)

: While Victoria is right on everything else, her dating is too optimistic. The skinning of cats for their fur, often while the animal is still alive, proceeds apace even in the present century, and probably in the UK as well as many other countries. See (if you have a strong stomach):

: cat-fur.htm

I assure you, Smokey, I never thought that cats weren't still skinned for their fur today! But it isn't part of everyone's everyday experience as it was less than a hundred years ago in London, where if you killed a cat or found a dead cat, the normal thing to do was skin it and sell the skin to the next rag and bone man who passed up your street. Nobody then would have needed to have it explained to them "WHY anyone would actually skin a cat". (VSD)