September 16, 2017
Let’s cut to the chase.
Sorry for the lateness of this post, but I’ll cut to the chase and say that I really need a new computer. While doing the research for this phrase, I had to deal with nonresponsive keys (the N key and B key don’t always work when I press them and now the =/+ key and CAPS Lock are slow to respond, as well.) It’s a mess but unfortunately, it will be a while before I can resolve this problem.
This was a fun phrase to research and I didn’t really think about its origin until now but it’s really interesting.
But first, let’s talk about the meaning of this phrase.
What Does ‘Cut to the Chase’ Mean?
The meaning is often pretty clear but it could be confused sometimes.
On October 17, 2013, a Stack Exchange user called user1205901 asked if there was a phrase similar to “Cut to the chase,” but with a negative connotation.1 In this case, the phrase would mean “that someone has transitioned too abruptly from one thing to another.” A few people who responded directly to the original post corrected the first user and one pointed out that the phrase could be used by the listener to tell the speaker to speed things up.
In short, when someone says “Cut to the chase,” they are telling that person to get to the point and get rid of unnecessary details. It could be kind of rude when used as an imperative statement.
Alternatively, when someone says, “I’ll cut to the chase,” they are being considerate of others’ time. The speaker knows the people listening need to know the facts or hear the conclusion quickly. Also, people tend to drift off during long speeches, so getting out information as quickly as possible will ensure that the listeners pay closer attention.
Additionally, the Grammarist says the phrase can be used as a writing device. In writing, people will sometimes use the phrase in order to “get to the point quickly or to prepare readers for a bold statement.” The phrase can also a hyphenated adjective, as in “cut-to-the-chase speaking style,” which means “direct and to the point.”
Where Did This Phrase Originate?
Oddly enough, when I first heard the term, “cut to the chase,” I did picture a cinematic scene. As it turns out, the phrase may have in fact originated from the early American film industry.
My first source was a page from Know Your Phrase. The entry borrowed from The Phrase Finder in saying that the phrase “Cut to the chase” was derived from an old novel. After seeing similar information in a Learn English article, I eventually went to The Phrase Finder for more information.
At The Phrase Finder, Gary Martin mentions how the phrase “cut to the chase” likely originated from the early U.S. film industry. In silent films, the plots generally consisted of “obligatory romantic storylines,” which preceded chase scenes. (In short, it’s no different than what we normally see in movies directed at young male audiences.)
In Joseph Patrick McEvoy’s 1929 novel, Hollywood Girl2, there is a line that points out a script direction:
Jannings escapes … Cut to chase.
While Martin says “we can be fairly sure that McEvoy wasn’t the source of the figurative use of the phrase as we now know it,” he pointed to a couple of excerpts from newspapers published in the 1940’s that used the phrase “cut to the chase.”
One such excerpt comes from a March 1944 article in The Winnipeg Free Press:
Miss [Helen] Deutsch has another motto, which had to do with the writing of cinematic drama. It also is on the wall where she can’t miss seeing it, and it says: ‘When in doubt, cut to the chase.’
The second excerpt is much closer to the modern-day usage of the idiom.3 This comes from a February 1947 edition of The Berkshire Eagle:
Let’s cut to the chase. There will be no tax relief this year.
Want to See Some Old Chase Scenes?
While doing the research for this phrase, I wanted to find some footage of old chase scenes to illustrate the point.
Here’s a bonus video with the Keystone Cops:
1. On the same day Stack Exchange thread was posted, a user called Mari-Lou-A mentioned the Keystone Cops.
2. The 1930 film “Show Girl in Hollywood,” with a screenplay written by Harvey Thew and James A. Starr, was based on John Patrick McEvoy’s 1929 novel Hollywood Girl. Ford Sterling, who was a former member of Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops, appeared in this film.
The film came at a time when “talkies” were replacing silent films (the process had begun in the late 1920’s) and Technicolor was being used for films, as well. At the time, there were also a glut of musicals being produced to show off the sound and color.
Yes, “Show Girl in Hollywood” was a musical (LoBianco). The plot involved a film adaptation of a Broadway musical.
3. Martin also mentions the phrase “cut to the Hecuba, which was discussed by Michael Warwick in “Theatrical Jargon of the Old Days,” an article in an October 1968 edition of Stage. The phrase was a “relic from Shakespeare and was an artifice employed by many old producers to shorten matinees by cutting out long speeches.
In Hamlet, the titular character refers to Hecuba, which appears in Act II of the Shakespeare play. Martin muses that the playwright produced more than one version of the play and that one, which would have taken five hours to perform, was most likely only fit for personal reading.
However, there is no proof that the phrase existed before 1968. And in any event, it’s highly likely that both terms, “cut to the chase” and “cut to the Hecuba,” were coined independently of each other.
“Cut to the Chase.” Grammarist. Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <http://grammarist.com/usage/cut-to-the-chase/>.
“Cut To The Chase.” Know Your Phrase. Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <http://www.knowyourphrase.com/phrase-meanings/Cut-To-The-Chase.html>.
FootageWorld. “STOCK FOOTAGE – Silent Comedy Sample.” YouTube. 25 Jan 2009. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWZD_bkNK-c>.
John Baharoff Sr. “Keystone Cops.” YouTube. 13 May 2013. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWM2kB_UTsE>.
laughland. “The Keystone Kops meet Pickles and Peppers.” YouTube. 4 June 2010. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8jphxpi1ro>.
LoBianco, Lorraine. “Show Girl in Hollywood.” Turner Movie Classics.” Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/1274788%7C0/Show-Girl-in-Hollywood.html>.
Martin, Gary. “Cut to the chase.” The Phrase Finder. Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cut-to-the-chase.html>.
McCarthy, Chris. “Why do we say ‘Cut to the chase’?” Learn English. 2 May 2008. Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <https://www.ecenglish.com/learnenglish/lessons/why-do-we-say-cut-chase>.
Various. “Is there an English saying like ‘cut to the chase’, but with a negative connotation?” Stack Exchange. 17 Oct 2013. Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/131922/is-there-an-english-saying-like-cut-to-the-chase-but-with-a-negative-connotat>.
Various. “Show Girl in Hollywood (1930).” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. Retrieved 15 Sept 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021371/?ref_=nv_sr_5>.