In Reply to: Cry off posted by Smokey Stover on March 10, 2010 at 19:53:
: : Can anyone explain the origins of the phrase 'to cry off'?
: Since the 18th century it has been used much as the modern synonyms are used, the modern synonyms being to beg off or to call off, the latter having a slightly different sphere of usages. The definition in the Oxford English Dictionary explains to a degree how cry + off came to mean what they do.
: "20. cry off. intr. To exclaim that a negotiation is broken off, on the part of the exclaimer; to announce one's withdrawal from a negotiation, treaty, engagement, etc.
: "1775 SHERIDAN Rivals III. i, I should never be the man to bid you cry off. 1857 TROLLOPE Three Clerks xviii, Would she be the first to cry off from such a bargain? 1890 G. M. FENN Double Knot I. Prol. iv. 62 He soon cried off on finding that his challenge was taken up."
: This definition explains the use of the verb "cry," but the meaning nowadays isn't so much dependent on the crying out as the fact of breaking off a negotiation or breaking a promise.
The original meaning of "cry" was 'entreat, beg, beseech, implore, in a loud and moved or excited voice' (it derives from Latin "gridare"). For centuries one of its routine meanings was 'announce publicly so as to be heard by all concerned; to give oral public notice of, to proclaim; to appoint or ordain by proclamation'. You could 'cry' an event such as a meeting, or a public entertainment: so logically, if you needed to inform people that the event was cancelled, you "cried it off". (VSD)