Sometimes, idioms and sayings have a funny way of creeping up in English, and it’s important to understand what they mean when they do so. In this article, we’ll look at the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” and where it came from.
What Is The Origin Of “There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat”?
The origin of “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” is an 1832 meeting in the House of Commons about cruelty towards cats entitled “Minutes of Evidence Taken Before Committee on Bill for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.” It has appeared multiple times after that in history.
There are plenty of original quotes and idioms that are referenced when we look through the direct origin and meaning of the saying to help you understand what it means. The most likely source for the saying comes from an 1832 meeting, but we thought we’d dive deeper to find out more.
1832 / The House Of Commons
As we’ve stated, there was a meeting in the House of Commons in 1832 where they talked about passing a bill to prevent cruelty to animals.
During this meeting, a man claimed to have seen a fur company skinning cats alive, while the fur company argued that it would be impossible to do so and unnecessary for sales. This whole discussion may have gone on to establish the well-known saying today.
1840 / Money Diggers
Money Diggers was a short story written by a humorist called Seba Smith in 1840. It’s perhaps the first known usage of the original phrase with all the parts in order.
In Money Diggers, the quote “there are more ways than one to skin a cat” was used to establish the original meaning. It meant that there were multiple things you can do to achieve your goals or aims.
Since then, the saying has been used in much the same way, always written to mean that someone can achieve their aims in many ways. If they find resistance in one method, they simply have to try another one before they need to worry about not achieving the goal in the first place.
1854 / Way Down East
This publication was again by the humorist Seba Smith and was published in 1854. This time, the saying was used in much the same way as the time we mentioned above.
The meaning is exactly the same in this example as well. It’s interesting that it was the same person who wrote it both times before it became more of a mainstream saying in other publication materials.
1889 / Mark Twain
Mark Twain was a writer famous for many things. One such publication we want to mention came out in 1889.
Within this piece of satire, Twain wrote about a woman who knew more than one way to skin a cat. It was intended to mean that this woman knew of multiple ways to achieve success.
Earlier Usages And Other Sayings
While the original point of this article is about skinning a cat, we want to talk about the earlier iterations of the idiom quickly. We’ll dive into these deeper later on, but they’re worth mentioning now.
The original saying most likely comes from a 1709 quote where someone says, “there are more ways to heaven than one.” The idea behind the saying is the same, where there are multiple ways to achieve a common goal.
Some people even believe it goes earlier than that and references a quote from 1678, where it’s mentioned a dog can be killed by means other than hanging. The idea behind all of these meanings is the same, so you can use whichever one you want.
It’s not surprising that the metaphor about skinning a cat ended up being the most used one. It’s most likely because it seems to be the most potent and holds the strongest of meanings.
Skinning a cat (or any animal) is obviously a barbaric offense. So, to have a saying mention it seemingly without a care in the world speaks to the level of how strong it is and why it’s most likely that people enjoy using the saying.
What Does “There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat” Mean?
There’s more than one way to skin a cat means that there are multiple ways for someone to achieve their goals. If they find that they failed from one attempt, they simply have to try again from a different angle to achieve what they want.
We’ve explained all about the meaning above. The original House of Commons meeting argues between a company skinning cats while they were alive, while the company argues that the cats weren’t alive. This already shows two different ways to achieve success. The metaphor is then extended further to reach everyday life.
Now, we can write the saying in multiple contexts. The idea is to always talk about the things we already know about, for example, finding a job or achieving success in a particular field.
If someone has recently tried to get a promotion but has currently been refused, then they might use this saying to let their boss know that they’ll try again from a different angle.
The saying always implies that someone will try a different method for success rather than sticking to the same one. Since the first method most likely proved not to work too well, they’ll want to try something different to guarantee their success next time.
Now let’s look at some examples of the phrase in action. We think it’s best to learn how these idioms and sayings work when you can see them between exchanges. We’ll include as many as we can that will set someone up to use this correctly.
- You aren’t going to get a job here with an attitude like that.
- Well, sir. I have to say; there are more ways than one to skin a cat.
- We can’t make it any further up this mountain with the gear we have.
- There’s more than one way to skin a cat! We’ll make it.
- I don’t think I can keep doing this with you. Do you have a better idea?
- I do. There are more ways than one to skin a cat.
- We should keep looking until we get the right answer.
- We will because there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
- I hear there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but I’m yet to find another way!
- Don’t worry; if we keep trying, we’re bound to find it eventually!
- I know more than one way to get to heaven, so watch what I do and copy me.
- She was ruthless, and she definitely knew more than one way to skin a cat. I couldn’t talk to her anymore.
- I think I need help getting through my homework assignment.
- You just need to try it from a different perspective. You should know more than one way to skin a cat.
- You’re never going to be employed if you don’t go out and look for a job.
- Mother, it’s the age of the internet now. There are more ways to heaven than one.
As you can see from these examples, most people use the saying in response to someone else (or sometimes when describing someone). Usually, we use it when someone says that a task is impossible or that we can’t make it.
The saying is used to give us (and sometimes the person we’re speaking to) hope. This hope tells them that we have more than one plan prepared for achieving whatever goal it is we’re looking to achieve.
Sometimes, those plans don’t work out. That doesn’t matter when using the saying, though.
Other Ways To Say “There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat”
Finally, let’s look at a few of the other ways you might be able to use the saying. Most of these are earlier iterations of it that we’ve seen in the past.
- There are more ways to kill a dog than hanging.
This one was one of the earliest uses of the proverb. However, it didn’t stick, and many people have never used it before.
- There are more ways to heaven than one.
This one is more profound and biblical, implying that you don’t have to follow one strict set of rules to eventually ascend to heaven when you die. There are multiple outcomes and choices that will get you there.
- There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream.
This proverb gives us a more specific method of killing a cat rather than “skinning” it. It works in the same way, implying that even though we’ve tried one thing and it didn’t work, we still have more ideas up our sleeves.
- There are more ways of killing a dog than choking him with pudding.
Just like the idiom above, we’re implying that although our method didn’t work, we can try something else later.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.