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The meaning and origin of the expression: Cut and run

Cut and run

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Cut and run'?

Run away.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Cut and run'?

This term is the shortened form of the earlier phrases 'cut and run away' and 'cut and run off'. It has been suggested that it has a nautical derivation and that it refers to ships making a hasty departure by the cutting of the anchor rope and running before the wind. That isn't absolutely proven although the earliest known citation does come from a seafaring context. Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, 1590 has this line:

"It [a ship] cut away upon the yielding wave."

Cut and runIt could be that 'cut' doesn't relate to rope actually being cut. It may just be that word was chosen with the allusion to cutting in the sense of passing straight though. Similar recent phrases are (from the USA) 'cut class' and (from Australia) 'shoot through'.

The earliest known citation of 'cut and run' is the 1704 Boston News Letter:

"Cap. Vaughn rode by said Ship, but cut & run."

The 'cutting rope' derivation was certainly accepted later in that century by David Steel, the author of the 1794 tome The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship:

"To Cut and run, to cut the cable and make sail instantly, without waiting to weigh anchor."

The 'away' and 'off' suffixes to the term were still in use after that and Charles Dickens is good enough to use all three in his works:

1834 - Sketches by Boz: "The linen-draper cut off himself, leaving the landlord his compliments and the key."

1848 - Dombey and Son: "[Mr. Toodle] tapped her on the back; and said, with more fatherly feeling than eloquence, 'Polly! cut

1861 - Great Expectations: "I hope, Joe, we shan't find them." and Joe whispered to me, "I'd give a shilling if they had cut and run, Pip."

See other Nautical Phrases.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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