'Cutting Corners': Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on October 18, 2022

Have you ever heard the expression ‘cut corners’ and wondered what it meant? This article will explore what this idiom means, where it originated from, and how to use it in a sentence.

In a nutshell, ‘cut corners’ means to take a shortcut or take the easy way out.

What Does ‘Cutting Corners’ Mean?

‘Cut corners’ is an idiom used in American English that refers to taking shortcuts or taking the easy way out of something.

It’s essentially what seems to be the quickest or cheapest way to accomplish something. It might also mean ignoring rules to get things done.

The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘cutting corners’ this way: “to do something in the easiest, cheapest, or fastest way.”

The Merriam-Webster definition from 1915 is: to deliberately do an incomplete or imperfect job in order to save time or money.

The Britannica dictionary's definition is: "to save time or money by doing less than you usually do or than you should do."

Where Does the Idiom ‘Cutting Corners’ Come From?

The meaning of cut corners isn’t immediately apparent, which means you’re probably wondering where this idiom comes from.

The idiom ‘cut corners’ comes from the 1800s. During that time period, it was related to rounding a corner instead of taking the appropriate route. That meant the distance was shorter from one point to another.

It’s well-known that ‘cut corners’ could backfire and end up taking longer than it would have originally.

The saying ‘cut corners’ was common among hunters. One of the first mentions was in Knightley William Horlock’s Letters on The Management of Hounds in 1852.

‘Cut corners’ also comes from coach and carriage driving – it’s a metaphor for driving. It alludes to the fact that you don’t have to go all the way around the corner – you can cut across the lines (the other lane).

Examples of This Idiom in a Sentence

Now that you know what 'cut corners' means from a few perspectives let’s take a look at how you can use it in a sentence.

• I don’t like to cut corners when I’m cooking.
• Get quality ingredients; don’t cut corners.
• When my boss found out I cut corners on our last project, I got fired.
• You can really tell she cut corners with that sheet cake.
• Don’t try to cut corners so that you can be finished first.
• It was clear the decorator had cut corners; everything looked a mess.

Final Thoughts on ‘Cut Corners’

‘Cut corners’ (or cutting corners) is an easy way to say someone is trying to do something fast, cheap, or easy. It’s a fun way to describe trying to take the easy way out at the risk of it blowing up in your face. It’s commonly known that cutting corners can often have unforeseen and often unpleasant consequences, which is why most people warn against doing it. Whether you’re working on a school assignment or a project at work, cutting corners can be more harmful than helpful if you’re not careful.

Looking for more explanations of common idioms like pie in the sky and leave the door open? Check out our library of resources for more fun articles that take a dive into everything you need to know about American English idioms and phrases.

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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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