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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Cut on/off

Since I’ve moved to North Carolina I have heard many people say “Cut on/off” the power or lights or any electronic device, and I’m very curious as to why.

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I found out why! The phrase historically comes from blade switches when you actually cut off/on the lights!!!

ally Apr-24-2009

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It's a southern thing. Like how people in the south say "y'all." Half of my family says it bc my mom's from GA, the other half doesn't because my dad is from NJ and he says turn it off/on. I have always said cut it on/off referring to appliances, lights, the tv, etc. It's incorrect grammar technically, but oh well there's your answer

gatagrace Dec-18-2018

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That's an interesting question. It reminds me of the phrase "cut the power!"
I haven't heard the phrase used to refer to light switches, but we do say "cut off" the electricity in reference to other things- such as disabling an electric fence. This seems to make more sense as it is clear in these cases you are literally cutting off a device's source of electric current; the verb seems less out of place.

So perhaps this has simply been adapted for the simple act of flicking a light switch?

As we know, speakers of the English language will happily reverse any statement they have learned to attempt to communicate its opposite, so I could easily see "cutting off" soon being accompanied by "cutting on".

Amanda1 Apr-18-2009

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I'm highly skeptical of the knife-switch explanation. (I do love those gizmos, however.)

Of course, I cannot be autoritative about it, but I have always thought that this stemmed from:

"Cut the power" + "Turn off the power"
"Cut off the power" (similar to "cut off the flow" or "cut off access to")
By analysis, "Cut on the power."

This then has led to "cut that off," and "cut that on." I've heard both in use.

brian.wren.ctr May-14-2009

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I have heard people use this phrase. I have also heard people say "close the light". I dislike both phrases because I don't think they make sense and I feel they are just lazy English. For "close the light" I can grant that this might have meant something back in the old days when you might have had a lantern with an actual closing mechanism to shield the light.
Cut the power on doesn't make any sense to me. You can certainly Cut the power off, by literally cutting the wire that supplies the electricity. Cutting the power ON just doesn't seem to be a valid phrase. It's just people putting words together that sounds like it might mean something. To me it's like saying "unbreak the seal" and wanting people to understand that it means put the lid back on the bottle.
The proper phrase of course is "Turn the Power on" on "Turn on the Lights". "Cut on the Power" just comes across as being illiterate to me, or at least not understanding how electricity works.

user108585 Jan-28-2020

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That's curious. I don't know why. Have you only ever heard people say "turn it on" or "turn it off"? I've heard it all my life and never thought of it.

scyllacat Apr-12-2009

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Good for you, Ally! I'm glad you asked.

I still don't know, but I am wondering then whether it is just because we are so habituated to the phrase "turn on" and "turn off," and that "cut" is not viewed as a termination of something, but just another verb serving the function of indicating some action with a preposition, as "turn" might be. Or maybe there is the sense of "cut" as a "shift."

Not an explanation, but an attempt. Have a great spring break!

esholloway Apr-13-2009

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I live in North Carolina. At first I was thinking "No... I've never heard that before". However, after some thought I realized you're right. Though, I only remember "cut off" not "cut on" the lights. Perhaps giving off a tone to end the death of the lights, so to speak.

I don't hear the phrase all too often. Usually the more common "turn on/off" is said.

I do not know of its origin. This is a very interesting question! I'd like to know also.

isabella Apr-13-2009

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They are all variant usages. I say “Turn on/off” because that’s what my parents, who were from Connecticut and Chicago, said.

Some people born in the South or who have a long heritage there, including many black people, often say “Cut the lights on/off”. We hear both in California. “Turn” is more common. I’d say “Cut” may be about 20%.

The big question to me is: What’s the origin of “TURN on/off the lights”? Usually we’re not “turning” anything. Maybe it stems from the house lamps where you do actually TURN the switch on and off. Since it’s typically a switch that’s either on or off, “cut off” may actually make more sense than “turn off”.

SallyMJ Jul-11-2022

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