Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 13, 2011
If something is a cut above, it is said to be better than other similar things. Likewise, if someone is a cut above, it means that person demonstrates better qualities than most other people on average.
On February 8, 1995 the Daily Record newspaper of Glasgow, Scotland commented on two movies in the column “Cinema: Reel Lives.” The first movie was the Zorro remake and the newspaper had this to say about it:
Mexico’s most famous swordsman is about to cut another dash on the big screen. And this time round the great Zorro will be played by Latin hunk Antonio Banderas. The movie also features the talents of Oscar winning Steven Spielberg and director Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez worked with Banderas on the excellent Desperado and assured me that his Zorro will be a cut above the rest.
Back on November 23, 1945 the Spokesman Review newspaper ran an interesting article entitled, “1000 Times More Than Ever.” The first tidbit had to do with the first Thanksgiving.
The first Thanksgiving — decreed by Governor Bradford in 1623 — celebrated the survival of a minority. Unknowingly, it also marked the birth of a nation made up of minorities — the Puritans of Massachusetts, the burghers of New York, the cavaliers of Virgina, the Indians of a vast frontier. None, mark you, liked another. With a trait common to minorities, each felt itself a cut above the rest. Yet the history of three centuries shows that when these minorities did get together and founded the greatest, freest, happiest nation of all time, the old animosities somehow vanished.
The New York Times ran a story on March 1, 1905 entitled, “Count On The Bowery; $30,000 To Prove It.” It told the story of Louis Heder, a pharmacist on Avenue B, who was identified as the heir to $30,000 in “hard cash” and the title of Count of the Empire of Austria as well as a direct descendant of the ruling Hohenzollern family of Germany.
None of the Boweryites knew how it came about, but nevertheless they were all satisfied that Louis, who had always seemed a cut above the ordinary crowd, was now Count Louis Heder-Hohenzollern of the Bowery and of Budapest.
On November 3, 1883 the Otago Witness reported on the horse races in the region. One race in particular — the Metropolitan Handicap — was of particular interest as one horse who had done well in previous races was going up against horses of a different calibre.
Tim Whiffler I have no fancy for; he has performed well in the North Island, but will, I think, find the present company a cut above him. Envious is put about as a good thing, but if she can land the stake all I shall say is that she must have changed her nature since last season.
A dozen years earlier, on September 4, 1875 the article, “Randwick Anticipations” appeared in the Sydney Mail newspaper in Australia. As with the previous article mentioned, it dealt with horse races and the various horses to be seen. It read in part:
Last season Hyperiod proved himself a cut above all comers; but he has not wintered well, and the vice-regal stable will have to intrust its honour to Valentia, and I can well imagine the shouts that will rend the air should “The Viscount” succeed in carrying the spots to the front at the end of such a terrible struggle as this will be.
The idiom uses the word cut in the sense of “a higher degree or stage” which dates back to the early 1800s. That particular expression is found in numerous newspaper articles in the first half of the 1800s such as in the article published in the Public Ledger of St. John’s, Newfoundland of April 12, 1831 with regards to the reform measures suggested in the House of Commons in London, England. The very extensive news article was a continuation of a previously published article and reported everything in exact detail. At one point, the following is found:
The Hon. and Learned Member had ridiculed the whole of the middle classes. He (Lord Althorp) would tell the Hon. Member he did not know the intelligence of the middle classes when he talked as he had done. That they did possess a higher degree of character and intelligence than at any former period, was abundantly proved, and he was satisfied they were as well qualified to select, and would select as wisely and as prudently as any other class, representatives distinguished for their honesty, their integrity, and their ability. He confessed he was one of those theorists who thought that the House of Commons should represent the opinions of the people. The Constitution supposed that the Members of the House of Commons were the real representatives of the people. The Hon. and Learned Gentleman seemed to think that this measure would give satisfaction to none but a very small portion — to none but a very small class of this country.
Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of “cut above” and because it was used with ease in the Sydney Mail in 1875, allowing for the time it would take for a new expression to catch on to the point of being included in a news article, Idiomation agrees that the expression is from the early 1800s.