Life and Style: The Cut

While a lady or gentleman ought to take all aspects of etiquette and politeness seriously, there are few things they should take quite as seriously as the decision to cut an acquaintance. This is most especially the case when they are considering the use of what is sometimes called the cut direct.

After all, there is difference between a slight blunder, an awkward moment or a lapse in judgement, and the misuse of something as severe, dreadful and final as the cut. While the former errors might be cheerfully forgiven by a warm-hearted friend, few people will be willing to overlook the snub and insult conveyed when they have been subjected to the cut.

Broadly speaking, if a lady or gentleman cuts another person, they are dissolving any bonds of friendship or acquaintance which previously existed between with them. It is a most grievous undertaking. However, a cut may take a number of forms. In his volume the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Mr Grose details the various modes by which a lady or gentleman might cut an acquaintance. If a lady or gentleman employs the use of the cut indirect, then they cut the acquaintance by studiously looking the other way, so that they might pass by the other person without appearing to see them. Another method they might use is the cut sublime. In this way, the acquaintance is cut by the lady or gentleman marvelling at the clouds and sky until the other person has safely passed them by, again seemingly unnoticed. The cut infernal adopts a similar approach, although in this instance, the lady or gentleman studies their shoes, rather than the sky.

The cut direct is rather more… direct. In order to cut the other person, a lady or gentleman using the cut direct would ensure that their actions and intentions were marked. As the other person came towards them, the lady or gentleman in question would cross the street to avoid them.[1] A direct cut might take other forms. A lady or gentleman could allow the other person to speak, and then declare that they ‘did not have the honour’ of the speaker’s acquaintance.[2]

A clear difference can be observed between the cut indirect, the cut sublime and the cut infernal on one hand and the cut direct on the other. While it might be possible to later pass off the first three as an accident or mistake – for instance, a gentleman might earnestly insist that he was completely engrossed by a particularly unusual cloud formation and was terribly wounded to think his inattention to the street had led someone to think he had cut them – a cut direct would be rather more difficult to explain away. Indeed, it would most likely to be impossible to deny or excuse. From the moment the cut direct is delivered, all connection between the person who had delivered and the person who had received the cut is irrevocably severed.

It is consequently clear that the act of cutting an acquaintance, whichever form is used, is no small matter. It is something which should not be done lightly and without just cause. Ladies and gentlemen are particularly cautioned against cutting someone on the basis of hearsay or gossip, as their basis may later turn out to be entirely without foundation.[3] As well as this, ladies and gentlemen might find that, regardless of the level of offence to which they have been subjected, it would nevertheless be wholly improper for them to cut the guilty party. For instance, a gentleman can never cut a lady.[4] A single lady can never cut a married one.[5] Close relations should not cut one another either, and a member of the clergy should never cut anyone at all.[6]

Indeed, ladies and gentleman should also consider if there is a way of getting around using a cut. If they do feel that they have no choice but to bring an acquaintance or friendship to an end, they might be able to accomplish this without resorting to such drastic measures. For example, a lady or gentleman might return a salutation with a cold bow.[7] In this way, familiarity can be discouraged without having to go so far as actively ignoring someone.[8] Adopting a formal manner and increasing their observance of ceremony is another means by which a lady or gentleman might indicate to another that they no longer wish to linked to them.[9] These means drop the hint, without adding the insult of the cut.

In short, the question of the cut is a solemn one. A cut may delivered by a number of means, but it should never be delivered lightly. A lady or gentleman should reflect seriously upon whether they should, or indeed may, take such a drastic step.

 

Bibliography

Anon., The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, (London: James Hogg and Sons, 1859[?]).

Grose, Francis, 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, [Digital Edition].

Willis, Henry P., Etiquette and the Usages of Society: Containing the Most Approved Rules for Correct Deportment in Fashionable Life, Together with Hints to Gentlemen and Ladies on Irregular and Vulgar Habits, (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1860[?]).

 

 Endnotes

[1] Grose, Francis, 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, [Digital Edition].

[2] Anon., The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, (London: James Hogg and Sons, 1859[?]), p. 279.

[3] Ibid., 277-278.

[4] Ibid., p. 279.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Willis, Henry P., Etiquette and the Usages of Society: Containing the Most Approved Rules for Correct Deportment in Fashionable Life, Together with Hints to Gentlemen and Ladies on Irregular and Vulgar Habits, (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1860[?]), p. 7.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., pp. 7-8.

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