cutting corners

Definition: To do something by the easiest /fastest /cheapest method, at the expense of doing it properly

Example: When the wheels came off Greg’s bike at high speed, he immediately regretted cutting corners when he’d repaired it.


Cutting corners originated in the physical act of going from A to B by the shortest possible route. There are multiple examples from the 1800s. Walking via an untried shortcut was cutting corners. Fox hunting parties on horseback not following the dog pack directly to catch them up were cutting corners. The expression also extended to carriages taking a corner too sharply so that the wheels mounted the curb. All of these situations had a common element of risk. A shortcut on foot might be dangerous. Horses might fall on unseen obstacles that the dog pack did not encounter on their own route. A carriage might break a wheel or axle, or even overturn.

Incidentally, the act of cutting corners spawned another phrase, one typically used across North America: kitty corner. It describes the relative location of something usually a building, being on the diagonally opposite corner of an intersection of streets. As cute as the term is, using it in conversation in the UK will get you a blank, uncomprehending stare.

But how the heck did this cute term come to be? Well, in older English usage, to cater was the act of going across, especially diagonally. The phrase cater corner came out of this. Over time, it morphed into catty corner, and eventually to the modern phrase kitty corner.

It might be worth sending Iddy out to look for a kitty corner at some point. Even if it’s just to see his own blank, uncomprehending stare…

2 Responses

  1. I was considering how I dislike the practice, in cleaning floors, for instance, of cleaning near the corners without being careful to clean inside the corners, thus leaving a buildup of dirt, dust, wax, etc. I suddenly thought of the expression “to cut corners” and used Google to find its origin. I have seen a few explanations, mostly related to driving or boating. Compared to other idioms I’ve seen explained, I haven’t seen well-documented and convincing evidence of the origins of “cutting corners.”

    1. Hi! Thanks for your input! The more idioms I look at, the fewer I find with a totally ‘convincing’ origin, and CUTTING CORNERS is no exception. I fear most origins have been lost to time as the language evolves. On a side note, I hate cleaning floors, corners or not!

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