Prior to World War II, when I was a small boy there were some men and older boys who would skin various kinds of small animals for the purpose of selling the pelts to those who dealt in furs. They might get a dollar or a dollar and a half for them. Someone is probably thinking, “Boy, I wouldn’t bother doing that for that little bit of money.” Remember that was in the latter thirties when the economy was still down and jobs were hard to come by.
Now I don’t recall a market for the furs of domestic cats. But during the early colonial days on this continent it was not healthy for those suspected of being witches or for their cats.
When I was growing up there was a man in our hometown that sold hot tamales. He even had an enclosed cart to keep his hot tamales in while wheeling it in the down town area calling out: “Hot tamales! Get your hot tamales!” Evidently the gentleman sold lots of hot tamales because he made frequent trips in the business area with his cart. Nevertheless, there was a rumor which made its round that he was using stray cats as the meat for his hot tamales.
“There is more than one way to skin a cat” is used as a figure of speech meaning: there is more than one way of doing something. There is uncertainty how or when that expression originated. In the Harper & Row, New York of 1948 a man by the name of Charles Earle Funk spoke of a gymnastic feat here in American called “skin the cat” in which a boy would grab hold of a branch or a bar and pull himself up over his arms into a sitting position on it. Evidently this reminded someone of the process involved in skinning an animal. However it is doubtful that the expression started by that stunt. The expression, itself, is actually older than our nation. The proverb was in John Ray’s collection of English proverbs in 1678. Since then it was used by early writers in America. Even though he was not the first to do so Mark Twain used it in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Count in 1889.
Dub Mowery is a Gospel preacher in the Church of Christ. Presently he serves as full time evangelist for the Pittsburg Church of Christ. A native of Southeast Oklahoma, he is the author of Colloquial Sayings & Expressions (Morris Publishing, 2008)