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Cut to the chase

Posted by RRC on May 16, 2008 at 18:04

In Reply to: Cut to the chase posted by Victoria S Dennis on May 16, 2008 at 07:38:

: : The phrase - "cut to the chase" dates to SH
: : hakespeare and Henry the VIII, well before the 1930's film industry. The reference is a tennis like game called court tennis or real tennis. There are hash marks on the court not unlike yard lines in US football. After Each mark or Chase is created, it is then defended. To win one it is best to cut the ball to the chase, or cut to the chase. Shakespeare makes several references in his plays about tennis and "chaces".

: Certainly there are references to real tennis and "chaces" in Shakespeare. What there is not, is any example of "cut to the chase". This theory has, to me, all the flavour of an "explanation after the event dreamed up by a practitioner of the activity concerned" (like all those falconers who are convinced that cadge, gorge, hoodwink, etc. derive from falconry). Unless you can produce an actual historical occurrence of the phrase in a tennis-playing sense (which I assume you can't, or you would have cited it), this remains an unsupported assertion. A strong argument against it is that all respectable dictionaries of slang and sayings that I know of say it is first recorded in the 1920s - not exactly a boom time for real tennis. The only book in which I have seen this theory advanced is called "Well I Never Knew That! Did Noah Invent Tennis?" by Peter Ryding, which is a very trashy compilation full of hoary old myths such as "Elephant and castle" being derived from "Infanta of Castile", and "No room to swing a cat" being about naval floggings, and can't possibly be relied on. (VSD)

As Victory says, there's no evidence of any connection between the 16th Century and the 20th Century or that the current meaning has any relation to the sport.

Some clarifications:

While there are 5 references to tennis, there is only 1 reference to chaces - saying there are several references to tennis and chaces is logically true but gives the impression that there may be more than one use of chaces.

Henry V, I:ii
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have march'd our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturb'd
With chaces.

Henry V (1387-1422) actually did play court tennis (I'll use the US term since calling it real tennis is confusing to me) about a hundred years before Henry VIII made it more popular which was more than 50 years before Shakespeare wrote "Henry V". In other words, "dates to Shakespeare and Henry VII" isn't a very meaningful statement since court tennis is much older than Henry VIII, Henry VIII died in 1547, Shakespeare wasn't born until 1564 and wrote Henry V in 1599.

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