Tag Archives: language

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 http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cut+to+the+chase 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.

IdiomSite.com

IdiomSite.com states in http://www.idiomsite.com/cuttothe.htm 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.

Wikipedia

Of course, there is always Wikipedia, which states in the article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut_to_the_chase 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 http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/107300.html 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 http://englishcaster.com/idioms/?m=20060626 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 http://www.englishclub.com/ref/esl/Idioms/C/cut_to_the_chase_150.htm

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.

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Alphabet Soup

25 Nov

Ever wondered where our alphabet came from, and how it evolved into what we have today? I have. This is perhaps because I was taught classical Greek language in high school. This exposure to another method of writing down spoken language has prompted this curiosity about language in me. In this article I want to give a quick and dirty overview of the history of the alphabet. Nothing too fancy, though.

Using Wikipedia as my guide –but also by searching with Google– the story seems to go like this, in reverse chronological order:

Roman alphabet, the letters most Western civilizations use nowadays.
upper case: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
lower case: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

(The Roman alphabet is sometimes called the Latin alphabet.)

The important thing to note is that it is possible to speak the letters you write, also known as spelling. This may seem trivial to most of us who are able to read this blog, but it is not. Many of the world languages are either iconic (symbols representing an idea), or leave part of the utterance to the reader (no vowels written down).

Still, it isn’t perfect as a notation of the spoken language, especially considering how certain combined vowels (diphthongs) are uttered in the English language, and how in some situations certain consonants turn into some kind of semi-vowels, like the letters r, w and y in e.g. bow, tar and boy. These change how the preceding vowel is pronounced. So it’s a bit like the diphthongs, where two consonants form a new combined consonant sound.

And, of course, there are diphthongs that sound the same, but are written differently, such as in homophones. This reminds me of this funny video, in which Larry explain homophones singing a polka (original file can be found here)

(Youtube video removed because of a third-party copyright claim)

Archaic Latin alphabet. The original (archaic) Latin alphabet didn’t have 26 characters, but only 21, and no lower case characters (nor space, punctuation, and all of that fancy stuff that enables us to read text without reciting it):

upper case: ABCDEFZHIKLMNOPQRSTVX

Because the Romans were so enthralled with Greek culture, they used a lot of Greek loanwords, and began adopting some of the Greek alphabetic characters. This gave rise to the Latin alphabet we know today.

Classical Latin alphabet, which has most of the Roman alphabet, except the letters J and W (I and J were basically the same, as where U and V, and W grew out of the ligature of VV). There weren’t any lower case characters.

upper case: ABCDEFGHIKLMNOPQRSTVXYZ

Greek alphabet, which is a kind of precursor to the Classical Latin alphabet. However, other alphabets are influenced by the Greek alphabet as well, such as Cyrillic and Gothic. The (more modern version of the) Greek alphabet has both upper and lower case characters. I hope that everyone can read it, because sometime Windows seems to have less than optimal support for foreign language fonts (and fonts in general).

Alpha Α α
Beta Β β
Gamma Γ γ
Delta Δ δ
Epsilon Ε ε
Zeta Ζ ζ
Eta Η η
Theta Θ θ
Iota Ι ι
Kappa Κ κ
Lambda Λ λ
Mu Μ μ
Nu Ν ν
Xi Ξ ξ
Omicron Ο ο
Pi Π π
Rho Ρ ρ
Sigma Σ σ ς
Tau Τ τ
Upsilon Υ υ
Phi Φ φ
Chi Χ χ
Psi Ψ ψ
Omega Ω ω

The Greek adopted their alphabet from the Phoenicians. The Greek letters are used in science nowadays, and, of course, in modern Greek. The lower case forms (minuscules) were not originally in the ancient Greek alphabet, but added later.

Of course, we can see striking similarities between Greek alphabet and our own alphabet. The letters A, B, E, Z, I, K, M, N, O, T, Y and X occur in both alphabets, though the lower case might be written somewhat differently. The Greek letters Δ, Λ, Π, Ρ and Σ are clearly the Roman letters D, L, P, R and S. The unfamiliar Greek letters are Η (long e-sound), Θ, Ξ, Φ, Ψ and Ω. Well, perhaps not totally unfamiliar. You may seen some of them already.

As I’m not a linguist, I will not go into the details of the alphabet, or how texts are written (depends on the particular Greek dialect).

Phoenician alphabet was the precursor of many alphabets, among which Ancient Greek and classical Greek. The letters are called after an word. Also, the letters were written on clay tablets, and therefore tend to be a bit more angular than roman letters written on parchment or paper.

Unfortunately, these archaic alphabets are not included in the standard font libraries of most operating systems, although they can be added. I found this page with a Phoenician font: Phoenician Alphabet, from which page a TrueType font (Eshmoon) can be downloaded (there is additional information about Phoenician on this website). For what it’s worth, you can also find an article on Wikipedia about the Phoenician alphabet.

This all means, I should probably not include the alphabet here, because most of you will not be able to display the characters without installing the Eshmoon character set. I will direct you to this excellent page on phoenicia.org, called Table of the Phoenician Alphabet.

If you study the page, you can clearly see for most letters, which object or animal each letter represents. The letters were not yet as stylized as in our Roman alphabet.

I hope that this crude introduction into alphabets has given you some idea where our alphabet came from and that it is just not an invention to write on paper and print books, but that it has a long history of revisions, additions and such. I’m sure we haven’t reached the end of it, not by a long shot. I’m certain new alphabets will come (and go).

That is all.