Monday, April 21, 2008

WordPlay: Cut to the Quick

The following stems from an exchange with Janne in Osaka on this post, which shows if nothing else that he doesn’t mean to hurt you when he cuts to the quick:

Cut to the quick is an interesting idiom, with basically two meanings that are reflections of each other. Look.

This, this, and this are some examples of the positive usages of this metaphorical idiom. Here's another example. This and other reference sites, though, are inclined to give only the original, hurtful sense of the phrase. I think that a big reason for this is sloth, the online tendency of “sources” to mindlessly copy each other. More importantly, all the positive examples I’ve found use the active voice, while the reference uses the passive voice. Note also that the usage in the Sweeny Todd is particularly effective because it channels the original, pre-idiom, hurtful meaning. In short, it’s good to cut to the quick, but it’s bad to be on the receiving end.

So you sometimes hurt their feelings when you cut to the quick? Better that, than to hedge your comments and drain them of any real meaning.

Unless you’re a politician.

I’m something of a word nerd, in case you haven’t noticed.

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