Cut and run

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For other uses, see Cut and run (disambiguation).

Cut and run is a pejorative[citation needed] phrase used in the context of a war or battle meaning cowardly retreat.[citation needed] Thus, stripped of emotional connotation, the phrase simply means withdraw or retire from the conflict at issue[citation needed]. The added pungency of the phrase comes from the partially obscured implication that this withdrawal is a course only undertaken by dishonorable fools whose fear and confusion has overcome their better judgment.[citation needed]

According to William Safire the phrase, suggesting panic, "is always pejorative. Nobody, not even those who urge leaders to 'bring the troops home,' will say, 'I think we ought to cut and run."[1]

Eugene McCarthy used the phrase as follows: "As [the Vietnam war] continued to go badly, its advocates became more defensive. The motives of those who spoke out against the war were questioned, as was their patriotism, and in the case of the Democrats their loyalty to the party. Critics were called 'nervous Nellies' and 'special pleaders,' and, in the language of cattle handlers, as ready to 'cut and run.'" (Quoted by Bob Herbert in the New York Times, December 15, 2005.)

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt used the phrase in the U.S. house of Representatives on November 18, 2005: "A few minutes ago, I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th District in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Schmidt's remarks were immediately criticized and within ten minutes, she withdrew them and apologized. Karen Tabor, Bubp's spokeswoman, said Bubp "did not mention Congressman Murtha by name nor did he mean to disparage Congressman Murtha...He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation." [2] Bubp told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he never mentioned Murtha by name when talking to Schmidt and would never call another US Marine a coward. Bubp later said, "I don't want to be interjected into this. I wish she never used my name."

The phrase originates in nautical usage. The OED quotes Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship (1794) which defines the phrase to mean "to cut the cable and make sail instantly, without waiting to weigh anchor." Here cable refers to the anchor line, hence the anchor is lost. Run is used in the sense of "to sail downwind". In nautical usage, however, the term does not necessarily carry the pejorative sense because cutting and running is sometimes imperative to save the ship in the case of an approaching storm for example.

In March 2004, John Howard, the then Prime Minister of Australia said "we are not going to cut and run from Iraq, Mr Speaker".[citation needed].

In December 2006, the then U.S. president George W. Bush used this phrase, to describe those who supported the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.[3]

United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated the United States would not "cut and run" from Afghanistan.[citation needed].


  1. ^ William, Safire (2004-05-02). "The Way We Live Now: 5-2-04: On Language; Cut and Run". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  2. ^ Cloud, David (2005-11-22). "Lawmaker Returns Home, a Hawk Turned War Foe". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  3. ^ Fletcher, Michael (2006-12-29). "Bush Attacks 'Party of Cut and Run'". Washington Post. 

See also[edit]

  • Roller hockey A phrase used in roller hockey when an exceptional player breaks away with the puck, and scores a goal.