Cut us a break!

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Thu Aug 25 04:37:43 UTC 2005

On Wed, 24 Aug 2005 23:58:16 -0400, Wilson Gray wrote:

>On 8/19/05, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
>> 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.

See the alt.usage.english thread from last year that I mentioned:

At the time we were unable to find any use of "cut a check" in the
relative sense before a Safire "On Language" column from May 24, 1981.
(The literal "cutting" of checks, as from a checkbook, dates back to the
19th century.) As for ditransitive "cut (someone) a check", the earliest I
found was also from 1981:

        Wall Street Journal, Jul 28, 1981, p. 3
        "I'm staying with Seagram because they'll cut me
        a check next Monday morning and I'll have the
        cash Tuesday.  Then I'll probably buy some more
        Conoco and tender it to Du Pont," said one
        professional speculator.

Checking the databases now, I don't see any antedatings offhand. The '80s
usage could of course be a revival from the '60s or earlier, but I have
yet to see any evidence for that.

--Ben Zimmer

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