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A cut above

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 08, 2007

In Reply to: A cut above posted by ESC on January 07, 2007

: : : what is the origin of the term " a cut above the rest " to describe someone or something which is that little bit more superior

: : More superior? Well, leave it be. I could not find the origin, although the expression gets into the OED:
: : s.v. cut: "18. Phrase. a cut above (some person or thing): a degree or stage above. colloq.
: : [1797 LAMB Lett. I. 78 There is much abstruse science in it above my cut.] 1818 SCOTT Hrt. Midl. xvi, Robertson is rather a cut abune me. 1842 MARRYAT Percival Keene i, She was..a cut above the housekeeper in the still~room. 1891 L. B. WALFORD Mischief of Monica xi, The girl herself is a cut below par."

: : I think one has to imagine what kind of cut is involved. A cut can measure a distance or an interval in whatever quality you choose. Think of a tally-board, with, say, numbers or values represented by cuts in a wooden board, or the equivalent as a measure of degree. "He was a cut above me in _______." Fill in the blank. Think of a cut as the space between two marks on a tally-board. This may be totally off, but I don't think that's proved by the fact that nobody says "She's two cuts above me."
: : SS

: Looking through some phrase books, I found the definition but not an origin.

Perhaps the reason one doesn't say "two cuts above" is that a cut above is not usually much of a cut. A cut above average really means a little above average. If you want to say the equivalent of "a big cut above average" you're likely to say "a lot above average," or "considerably above average." The degree to which a "cut" is above or below average or a cut above your or me, is to some extent in the hands of the speaker. Being a cut above someone else may be, psychologically, a very big cut just by existing. To someone who things he's a cut above, a cut is as good as a mile.