cut corners


cut corners


  • economise on time, money, materials or effort, perhaps unwisely
  • to do something in a cheap and easy way
  • leaving out steps when doing something, often to the detriment of the finished product
  • to reduce extra expenses

The term often used to indicate that something illegal was being done.

Example Sentences

  1. It is certainly not a sensible move to cut corners with national security.
  2. My mom often had to cut corners when we were kids in order to feed all of us.
  3. The company is known to cut corners. This means that they import all of their products instead of making it.
  4. When the boss found out that the accounting department was cutting corners they fired them all.
  5. The President of United States decided to cut corners in order to overcome of the recession.
  6. To fill out the bill of credit card this month, I must have to cut corners.


The idiom has been used since the 1800s. It is related to rounding a corner instead of taking the proper route. This shortened the distance from one end to another.

The idiom can be found in an article entitled ‘About “Going Straight On”‘ in The Oxford Magazine and Church Advocate (Vol. III., October 1863, No. 36, page 340)

I do not believe, either, in what we used to call cutting corners or going short roads to places. The short road I have always found is in the end the longest. There are more gates to open, more stiles to get over, something or other to hinder, and the distance we save we lose in the time we take. Set one man to go to a place four miles off by the road; set another to go a short cut across the fields, and ten to one the man on the road gets there first. And it is natural he should, for the road is the legitimate way, the one that has been tried and found the best, and by going straight on it we shall gain time if not distance.

It was also frequently used by hunters. The earliest example being from 1852: Knightley William Horlock’s Letters on the Management of Hounds:

About a hundred and fifty horsemen were at once scattered over the downs, riding at the top of their speed, in almost all directions; some following the hounds, but a greater number, not liking the undulating nature of the ground, cutting corners, and hustling each other by cross riding.


  • skimp
  • be sparing with
  • economise on
  • cut back on
  • pinch pennies

Share your opinions2 Opinions

My career was in the construction world so, whenever I came across shoddy or poorly done work it was referred to as someone’s having “cut corners.” There was no direct correlation of the idiom with a specifc practice in any of the trades like, for example, using a lower grade of lumber than specified or not using enough nails. But the meaning was well-understood. Thanks for explaing the origin!

‒ Pete Thomason January 27, 2023

This is incorrect. The origin is in agriculture. Cutting a corner whilst working a field gives the sense one has completed quicker and more efficiently, then to move on to the next t field quicker. However, there is no advantage in doing this and in fact it is detrimental if part of the crop hasn’t been sown/treated due to the cutting of corners.

‒ Pete April 23, 2019

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