If only the English language was cut and dry—or is it “cut and dried”? Oh no. It’s another expression that you probably felt really confident about until I raised the question. And now it’s ping-ponging back and forth in your mind. “Cut and Dry” vs. “Cut and Dried” vs. “Cut-and-Dry” vs. “Cut-and-Dried.” What is the standard version?
If you’re having a moment of embarrassment, nervous you’ve always said this one wrong, you might feel better because you’ve hardly been alone in this confusion.
Since this expression came into common use around 1700, the correct answer and therefore people’s usage of it have been a bit wobbly. In fact, it started as “cut and dried.” Between 1714 and 1739, “cut and dry” stepped into the lead and then did again between 1744 and 1767 and a third time between 1782 and 1787. But here’s the rest of the story:
As you probably figured out from the graph, the standard expression is “cut and dried,” and it has been for over two hundred thirty years. Isn’t the evolution of the English language fascinating? (Or maybe you’re saying, it’s just exasperating. If so, I get it, but we can all keep working on getting it right.)
- “Cut and dried” means routine, nice and clear, or ordinary. Some synonyms include deliberate, efficient, and by the book. (Book? Buy the book? Oh, you know I couldn’t let that slip by!)
Because the etymology story of “cut and dried” isn’t actually cut and dried (ironic, right?), I don’t have a full origin tale to share here. It’s likely related to agriculture, but I invite your creativity to fill in the blanks for now. There are endless possibilities.
And—bonus tip!—if you’re using this expression as an adjective directly in front of a noun, don’t forget the addition of hyphens (e.g., What a cut-and-dry answer this is!”). If it’s not being used as an adjective directly preceding the noun, the hyphens are not necessary.
So how’d you do with this one? Did you have the right answer? Either way, now you do. Whether chili peppers, herbs, timber, meat, or English language tips, sometimes having things cut and dried is a good thing.
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