‘Cut Bait’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on March 13, 2023

Have you heard someone say they need to ‘cut bait,’ and you’ve been wondering what it means? Below, we’ll take a look at the definition and origin and provide some examples that can help you understand the phrase better so you can use it in a sentence correctly.

In short:

‘Cut bait’ means to give up on something in order to pursue something else.

Essentially, it means to abandon an activity completely. It might also mean being productive or moving out of the way.

What Does ‘Cut Bait’ Mean?

‘Cut bait’ means to give up on something in order to pursue something else. Essentially, it means to abandon an activity completely. It could also mean to either be productive or to step aside so someone else can be.

‘Cut bait’ means to give up on something, and it’s taken from the phrase ‘fish or cut bait,’ which means to either work productively or move aside.

It can be seen as a challenge between co-workers or other members of a group.

Take this, for example. Two men are fishing with one fishing pole, and the one holding the pole isn’t getting any bites. So, the other tells him to ‘cut bait,’ meaning catch a fish or hand over the fishing pole (step aside) and let him catch the fish (be more productive).

The American Heritage Dictionary says the informal idiom means:

  • ‘To proceed with an activity or abandon it altogether.’

The Oxford Dictionary says it means to:

  • ‘Stop wavering and act on something or disengage from it.’

Where Does ‘Cut Bait’ Come From?

The phrase ‘cut bait’ came into play in the U.S. in the mid-1800s.

One of the earliest examples of this phrase’s usage as figurative language came in July 1837 in an issue of the Oneida Observer in Albany, New York.

Someone wrote:

“Politicians cannot shili-shalli along now. They must either ‘fish, cut bait, or go ashore.”

The origins of the phrase come from the fishing industry. It refers to the act of cutting bait to begin fishing. Fishermen have to decide who will fish and who will cut the bait used for fishing.

Some people say that it alludes to a fisherman who should either actively try to catch fish or cut up the bait for other fishermen to use.

It might also mean starting to fish or releasing the bait.

The idiom appeared in the Congressional Record in 1876. Congressman Joseph P. Cannon urged his Democratic colleagues to vote on a bill that would make the silver dollar legal. Supposedly, he said:

‘I want you gentlemen on the other side of the House to fish or cut bait.’

Examples of ‘Cut Bait’ in Sentences

How would you use ‘cut bait’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:

  • I’ve told Jeremy a thousand times that he’s either got to cut bait or marry me. I’m not waiting around another six years as his fiancé.
  • I wish my daughter would fish or cut bait. I’m tired of waiting to hear whether she’ll move in with me or my ex-husband. It’s so nerve-wracking.
  • We need to fish or cut bait on this decision. Are we going to hire Paul or John? It’s a tough decision, but we need to make a decision.
  • I wish you’d cut bait and decide on either a European vacation or an African Safari vacation. We want to book the trip before the prices of the tickets go up.
  • Yeah, we’re going to have to just cut bait and decide whether we want to move back to my parent’s house to save money or move to the Tiny House community we’ve wanted to join for months.
  • Fred sat there for hours with that pen and paper without writing a single word. I told him to cut bait already – either write something or come back in the house. I can’t stand to keep looking at him just sitting there.

Other Ways to Say ‘Cut Bait’

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'good luck with your future endeavors'?

Here are some options:

  • Fish or cut bait
  • Make a choice about what you want to do
  • Start working more productively
  • Lead, follow, or get out of the way
  • Put up or shut up
  • Shit, or get off the pot
  • Make a move one way or the other
  • Initiate some action
  • Get on board with what someone else is doing, or step aside
  • Make your move or get out of the way
  • Do something or get out of the way

Final Advice on ‘Cut Bait’

To recap, we learned that:

‘Cut bait’ means to give up on something to pursue something else. Essentially, it means to abandon an activity completely. It could also mean being productive or moving out of the way.

If you ever get stuck on anything, you can always come back and review what you learned. We’ve got a whole library of content on other idioms you might see while you’re learning English. Go check it out anytime.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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