Posted by: Jack Henry | March 17, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Cutting Idioms

My 13-year-old dog can hardly walk on her back legs, but she likes to keep her front legs fit and trim by digging holes in the back yard—and trying to dig holes in the rugs on our bedroom floor. The latest couple of rugs have not stood up well to her abuse. There are always strands of fiber she’s pulled out that are big enough to catch your toe on.

Part of my weekly maintenance is to get on the floor and cut off the strings. As I did this last weekend, I realized I was “cutting a rug,” and my mind went to the idiom “to cut a rug” meaning to dance. That just didn’t sound right! I looked it up, and indeed it is an idiom, which Merriam-Webster categorizes as “old-fashioned slang.” Well, that made me feel less than young! Even worse, my thoughts jumped to the last time I saw anybody “cutting a rug.” It was the 1946 Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

When another idiom with the word “cut” came up in my mailbox, I thought it was a message from the universe to do an article for Editor’s Corner. The second idiom was “cut to the chase.” Here is an explanation and a little history from Grammarphobia:

Cut to the chase

The expression “cut to the chase,” which was first recorded in the early 20th century, is derived from the use of the verb “cut” in filmmaking to mean move rapidly from one scene to another.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines this sense of “cut” as “to make a quick transition from one shot to the next.” The earliest example that we’ve seen for the usage is from an early 20th-century book on motion-picture technique:

“Perhaps we can cut to Sam wondering what effect the marriage will have on his chances” (from Technique of the Photoplay, 2d ed., 1913, by Epes Winthrop Sargent).

The OED, an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence, says the expression “cut to the chase” was originally a film usage meaning “to cut to a chase scene; (hence) to cut to an interesting or fast-paced part of a film….”

In a few years, the usage took on its usual current sense, which the OED defines as “to get to the point, to get on with it; to concentrate on the essential elements of an issue, etc.”

Wishing you a happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s hoping you have a chance to cut a rug or dance a jig today in celebration!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Editing: Symitar Documentation Services

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