Cut us a break!

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 25 03:58:16 UTC 2005

On 8/19/05, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Cut us a break!
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Fri, 19 Aug 2005 02:43:23 -0400, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at NB.NET> 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).

Is it really the case that "cut a check" can't be documented any
earlier than 1980? <rhetorical question> That is absolutely amazing! I
may be - well,probably am - alone in this, but I've always considered
this "cut" to be the same as the verb "cut" defined under 10  in HDAS
p.545a, dating back to WWII. I haven't heard anyone speak of "cutting
a check" since the '60's. Had anyone asked me - fortunately, no one
has, sparing me embarrassment, no doubt - I would have said that "cut
a check" is a bit of business jargon that fell out of use years before
the '80's.

Speaking of "cut," some of you may remember a discussion here of the
"cut" in "cut the slave" : "hold a regular job." I don't recall that
we came to a consensus. However, IMO, the verb "cut" as defined under
2 in HDAS p.544b either is the "cut" that we were searching for or is
the source of that "cut."

-Wilson Gray

> There was a long thread on that expression in alt.usage.english last year:
> --Ben Zimmer

-Wilson Gray

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