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The meaning and origin of the expression: Cut to the chase

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Cut to the chase

Meaning

Get to the point - leaving out unnecessary preamble.

Origin

Stagecoach attack - cut to the chaseThis phrase originated in the US film industry. Many early silent films ended in chase sequences preceded by obligatory romantic storylines. The first reference to it dates back to that era, just after the first 'talkie' - The Jazz Singer, 1927. It is a script direction from Joseph Patrick McEvoy's novel Hollywood Girl, 1929:

"Jannings escapes... Cut to chase."

There's quite a distance from a single citation in a script direction to a phrase that is part of the language. It doesn't appear again in print for some years and we can be fairly sure that McEvoy wasn't the source of the figurative use of the phrase as we now know it. That figurative use, that is, the generalized 'get to the point' meaning emerged in the 1940s. The Winnipeg Free Press, March 1944 ran an article about screen writing that included this:

Miss [Helen] Deutsch has another motto, which had to do with the writing of cinematic drama. It also is on the wall where she cant miss seeing it, and it says: "When in doubt, cut to the chase."

That does imply getting to the point but isn't quite the current meaning as it relates specifically to film chases. The more general usage comes soon afterwards, for example, in this piece from the New England newspaper The Berkshire Evening Eagle, February 1947:

"Let's cut to the chase. There will be no tax relief this year."

The precept as it applies to films is as prevalent now as it was in the silent film days. Many, in fact it is not too strong to say most, films aimed at a young male audience involve plot devices that allow for car/boat/spacecraft chases. There is usually a token love interest storyline before everything in sight ends up in pieces.

There is a similar phrase 'cut to Hecuba', which is reported by Michael Warwick in 'Theatrical Jargon of the Old Days', a piece in an October 1968 edition of Stage. Warwick explains the phrase as a "relic from Shakespeare and was an artifice employed by many old producers to shorten matinees by cutting out long speeches". The allusion is to a speech in which Hamlet refers to Hecuba, which appears late on in Act 2 of Shakespeare's play. The need for such a phrase is evident, as Shakespeare apparently produced several versions of Hamlet, some of which would have taken more than five hours to perform and which were seemingly intended for private reading rather than performance. A need to 'cut to Hecuba', in order to get to the end in a timely fashion seems reasonable. Warwick doesn't include any evidence to prove the existence of the phrase prior to 1968 though and it is hardly a part of everyday language - I can find no citation of it in print other than in Warwick's article. There's also nothing to link 'cut to Hecuba' with 'cut to the chase'. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that the two phrases were coined independently.

See also: Chick-flick.

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.