Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How many way are there to skin a cat?

Where does the phrase come from? Obviously there is more than one, so why state it? Who first used it?

Mark Twain used the phrase in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1889: “she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat”, that is, more than one way to get what she wanted.

An earlier appearance is in ’Way down East; or, Portraitures of Yankee Life by Seba Smith of about 1854: “This is a money digging world of ours; and, as it is said, ‘there are more ways than one to skin a cat,’ so are there more ways than one of digging for money”. From the way he writes, the author clearly knew this to be a well-known existing proverbial saying.

In fact, it is first recorded in John Ray’s collection of English proverbs as far back as 1678.

Some writers have pointed to its use in the southern states of the US in reference to catfish, often abbreviated to cat, a fish that is indeed usually skinned in preparing it for eating. However, it looks very much from the multiple versions of the saying, their wide distribution and their age, that this is just a local application of the proverb.

So I guess no one REALLY knows...

Explanation via worldwidewords.org

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