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The meaning and origin of the expression: Cut off without a penny

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Cut off without a penny

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Meaning

Disinherited.

Origin

We now might say 'cut off without a penny' or 'cut off without a farthing' etc. to indicate someone being disinherited. The amount of money mentioned isn't significant, apart from it necessarily being a small amount. That wasn't always the case. The phrase used in the 18th century to refer to disinheritance was specific about which coin was used - the form of words was 'cut of with a shilling'. The use of 'with' rather than the currently used 'without', was deliberate. In order to unequivocally disinherit someone who might otherwise expect to benefit from a will the bequest of a single shilling was the usual device to confirm that the tiny inheritance was deliberate and not the result in an oversight.

This is referred to in Frances Sheridan's sentimental novel The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph, 1767:

"In short, his easy temper yielded to her importunities, and he had a will drawn up by her instructions, in which I was cut off with one shilling, and my intended fortune bequeathed to my eldest sister."