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

Cut off without a penny

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Cut off without a penny'?


What's the origin of the phrase 'Cut off without a penny'?

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."

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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