phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Cutting corners

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 06, 2010 at 22:56

In Reply to: Cutting corners posted by David FG on February 06, 2010 at 17:46:

: : : : : What is the origin of phrase 'cutting corners'? Thanks.

: : : : It is an allusion to the phenomenon of taking a diagonal, short route from one place to another rather than going to the end of one road (literally or figuratively) then taking a 90 degree turn to the left or right and following that road to your destination: thus cutting off the corner.

: : : : It means, simply, to use the quick and easy solution to any problem.

: : : : DFG

: : : Does it? When I use "cutting corners", or hear it used, I take it to mean "leaving out things you would and should normally do (such as leaving a margin for safety, or maintaining high quality, or informing people who have a right to know) for the sake of speed/economy". It's entirely a matter of context (and outcome) whether cutting corners is a good thing to do or not. (VSD)

: : I've heard it only in contexts that make it a bad thing to do. Does it definitely originate in driving, not tailoring, where economizing on fabric by skimping at the ends of seams produces a weaker garment? ~rb

: Yes, I think you are right. The implication is that the 'quick and easy way' is going to result in a substandard outcome. I should have made that clear in my original post.


I took the easy way out, but without cutting any corners. That is, I went to the OED, which has this to say:

"d. to cut a corner or corners: to pass round a corner or corners as closely as possible; fig., to pursue an economical or easy but hazardous course of action; to act in an unorthodox manner to save time; also, to act illegally."

The first example that they cite is:

1869 'MARK TWAIN' Innoc. Abr. xxiii. 171 He cuts a corner so closely now and then..that I feel myself 'scrooching', as the children say.

People weren't driving cars in 1869, but they were driving wagons and carriages. In my experience in cars, if you're making a right-angle turn, you can cut it closely, or take it wide, or just go through the way it's shown in the driving manual. There are times when circumstances may dictate that any of the three is best.