Cut us a break!

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Aug 19 12:14:14 UTC 2005

"Cutting orders" does seem to go back to WWII, if not earlier.  I believe that the "stencil" explanation is correct. "Cutting checks" ought to go back before 1980 (I think), because commercial checks were/are frequently produced on some kind of stencilly machine that embosssed the "amount" rather than merely printed it.

I always think of a length of rope as the underlying metaphor in "cut some slack," etc.


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: Cut us a break!

On Fri, 19 Aug 2005 02:43:23 -0400, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:

>"Cut" = "give" or so is in HDAS (sense 15).

Thanks, Doug, I'd missed that.

>"Cut [someone] some slack"
>"Cut [someone] a break"
>"Cut [someone] a deal"
>... and probably in the same category ("cut" = "do" or so here):
>"Cut [someone] a favor"
>"Cut [someone] a huss"
>... and I'm not sure about this one:
>"Cut [someone] a check"
>I don't know whether any of these has special priority.
>Whence this "cut" anyway? Was it originally from a metaphor like "cut
>[someone] a piece of the pie"?

I was thinking it had to do with giving someone his/her "cut" = 'fair
share of the profits'. OED has the related "cut (someone) in" (Ring
Lardner, 1924: "They'll cut you in on the big money").

As for "cut (someone) a check", that's a much more recent usage (c. 1980).
There was a long thread on that expression in alt.usage.english last year:

--Ben Zimmer

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