Sunday & Southern Monthly ~ Issue 9

Posted on Jul 25, 2015

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Welcome Back to Sunday & Southern Monthly!


If you missed the previous installments, you’ll be interested in reading Issue 1 where I give a full definition of colloquial and a favorite example of one.  In Issue 2 you’ll find out what my youngest daughter does every morning.  In Issue 3 you’ll find out what trait I’ve been fighting.  In Issue 4 you’ll read about a quirky measurement.  Issue 5 was inspired by my oldest.  Issue 6 is an attempt to instill patience.  Issue 7 provides some musical entertainment.  Tell me if Issue 8 is in your opinion, an expletive.


Here in Sunday & Southern Monthly in an attempt to bring a little southern style, charm, grace, and humor to you once a month, I publish a colloquialism favored in the South ~ a southernism.  This month the phrase I’ll expand upon is in honor of my husband, the fisherman  ~


Cut Bait




Informal Idiom / Verb Phrase


  1. to proceed with an activity or abandon it altogether
  2. stop vacillating and act on something or disengage from it

(Source 1); (Source 2)


Expanded Definition


Literally speaking, if you were to venture out to the water to fish, but you don’t truly intend to fish with a line in the water, then you need to go cut up the bait instead, allowing someone else to actually fish.  This action allows for two separate fishing jobs to be done simultaneously.  And it is a phrase derived from commercial fishing.  The original expression went something like this, “fish or cut bait or go ashore.”  Think of it as a maritime version of  “Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” 


Possible Origins & Usage


The Phrase Finder website states that the origin and meaning aren’t entirely clear.  However, the expression found a figurative voice during the mid-1800’s during a court case over land ownership involving a US Attorney General.  The journalists reporting the case were apparently unfamiliar with the phrase.


A few decades later, Author, Joseph W. Smith wrote in his self-published book Gleanings From the Sea (1887): 


The men are never idle. All either fish or cut bait, and, soon as free from any special toil, over go their lines to see what response may come from below.”


The Modern Meaning


It seems the phrase as gradually shortened and is now simply rendered “cut bait”.  Also, it seems a more modern meaning of the expression, to step away from something, stems from the fact that bait fish outside of commercial fishing is often prepackaged.  And so a debate has arisen as to whether the expression refers to cutting up bait or cutting loose a fishing line, thereby giving up bait.  


Either way, you are making a choice to do something useful.  If you can’t be useful in one area, then switch gears.


If you enjoy Fishing Slogans, you can find a slew of them here.


Tune in next month {in a month of Sundays 😉 }   for the next installment of Sunday & Southern Monthly.  You’ll read all about another silly southern saying.


Thanks for reading!  Hurry on back now, ya hear?


Sunday & Southern Monthly




P.S.  Do you have any favorite sayings?


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