Cut to the chase explained

7 Dec

An English idiom popped into my head, “cut to the chase”. I roughly knew what it meant, and perhaps this was a good subject for a blog post. Since I’m not a native English speaker, I’m not privy to certain expressions of the English language.

I’ve learned English in Dutch high school, but that doesn’t bring you very far when conversing with native English speakers. There still exists a huge language barrier caused by my native tongue. The way you speak, what language you speak, also shapes how you see the world. Since a common language requires a somewhat common view of the world, this poses a problem for people who use English as their second language.

In short, we foreigners need some tools to help us. There are books, but there is also the World Wide Web and Google. So when entering “cut to the chase” (without the quotes) in the Google search engine, what do we get as relevant results?

Unfortunately, not very much. Most sites regurgitated other websites contents, without adding new content. I think that is a cheap way to fill your website. One site even required you to e-mail someone to get a detailed answer (do I smell an e-mail address harvesting scheme here?). Fortunately, I got a new podcast series to subscribe to out of all of this searching, The Bob and Rob Show.

Below you will find a report of my findings. I used Scrivener to compile each mini-review.

The Free Dictionary

The Free Dictionary states in the article that it is an informal idiom, and it means:

“To talk about or deal with the important parts of a subject and not waste time with things that are not important.”

As to the origins of this idiom:

“Based on the idea that, when describing a movie, the writer can cut (= interrupt) the story and explain the exciting parts, which usually involve a chase.”

Hmm, that is a good definition, I guess. states in the following:

“Meaning to get to the point. A movie term from the 1920’s, it originally meant to cut from a dramatic scene to an action scene (like a chase).”

There is also an interesting comment, sent in by one or more visitors to the website.

The phrase “cut to the chase” originated with the movable type for the printing presses. The letters were aranged in a wooden frame called the phrase. On the box were metal ‘coins’ that tightened the frame and held the type in place. When a phrase was completed the term “to coin a phrase” came about. The completed phrases were put together in a larger frame called the chase. Once the phrases were finished it was time to cut to the chase. Which means that the type was ready to be printed.

Now that is an interesting description of the origin of this idiom, which I have never heard of before. We should keep that in mind. I’m sure the reference to the movies has some truth in it as well, but the printing press tale probably predates the movie tale of origin.


Of course, there is always Wikipedia, which states in the article that it means: “To get to the point without wasting time.”

Wikipedia also refers to the origins in the silent movies era, in which comedies had a climax in the form of a chase scene. Here’s another interesting tidbit of information:

“An inexpert screenwriter or director, unsure how to get to the climax, would just make an abrupt transition, known as a cut.”

The article also mentioned that there was an earlier version of this idiom, but we will not concern ourselves with that.

The Phrase Finder

The Phrase Finder states in that cut to the chase means:

“Get to the point – leaving out unnecessary preamble.”

The origins of the idiom are described in detail, but it comes down to the observation that it started with a small phrase in a script by the author of a novel, and in roughly 20 years slowly evolved into its current general meaning of getting to the point, by how it was used in books and newspaper articles.

And, for what it’s worth, its predecessor from the “olden days” is mentioned as well in this article.

English Idioms and Slang podcast

The podcast English Idioms and Slang mentions in what it means. Nothing really new here, but it is fun to listen to idiom instead of reading idiom yourself.

Here is the link to the audio file:

And the link to the website of the (discontinued) podcast:

You can’t subscribe to the podcast anymore, but you can still listen to the audio files on the website.

Bob Diem was the creator of that podcast. He has now a new podcast series, called The Bob and Rob Show, at:

English Club

English Club has a reference on cut to the chase, at

It states its meaning and refers to its origin as chase scenes in early silent movies. The article also mentions two example sentences, which is nice.

There is an even nicer feature on this site, which is called a Quick Quiz. It tests your knowledge of the article above. Go and do this test, to see if you understood the phrase.

That is all.

One Response to “Cut to the chase explained”

  1. littlehelpers December 9, 2008 at 8:02 am #

    Nice selection!

Comments are closed.

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