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Cut your stick

Q From Christel Devlin: Do you have the source of the phrase to cut your stick, meaning to get up and leave? I learned this phrase from a friend who grew up in rural Ireland.

A The informal phrase is well recorded, in the Oxford English Dictionary and elsewhere, but it’s old enough that the origin is misty. It seems that it refers to the custom centuries ago of cutting a stout walking stick or staff — which could double as a weapon — before beginning a long journey on foot. There was once a similar medieval expression which suggests the truth of this reading: to pike oneself — usually reduced just to the verb to pike — which literally meant to furnish oneself with a pike or pilgrim’s staff. But in a figurative sense, to pike meant to leave, make off, or go away, just as to cut one’s stick does.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Nov. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 20 November 1999.