A Words Look: Skinning Cats?

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

L0003577 Engraving of G. Katterfelto with a black cat.

Image from WikiCommons: Engraving of G. Katterfelto with a black cat.

There are many odd phrases we use in common, everyday English, but “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” may be one of the most morbid, oddest of these in existence.

Seriously, cat skinning?

Where is heaven’s name did this phrase ever come from?

Admittedly, I’m not the president of the International Cat Fan Club, but I can’t imagine the literal meaning of this proverb ever being held as common practice.

Was there once a lucrative market in cat furs or something?

Why did this mostly off-the-wall phrase ever come to be?

Did modern man, at some point in his history, feel the need to define the importance, and therefore the associated methodologies, of possessing multiple ways to remove a feline’s carcass from its skin?

Here is a link to a good post which discusses the phrase and its history from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words blog.

Of course, we rarely use the phrase nowadays with any hint of its literal interpretation. We use it as an accepted phrase to colorfully suggest there is more than one approach to solving a problem. To put the literal interpretation of the phrase into action, in fact, may get one arrested, ostracized to a lonely life in a trailer down by the river, or tar and feathered by a gang of cat-fancier vigilantes.

It was a common phrase I used when coaching, especially when talking about football blocking schemes. We wanted to provide the offensive lineman with a set of tools and give them the freedom to use these multiple tools during a game. We gave them the “more than one way to skin a cat” options so they could make problem-solving decisions on the fly and get the job done the best way they could see fit.

Have any of you used this proverb in your own personal language toolbox?

Have you ever wondered how some of these old sayings came to be?

Can you think of similar phrases that are in our common lexicon?

Interesting words.

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