Cut one’s losses

  • Cut one’s losses is an idiom that has been in use for over 200 years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom cut one’s losses, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    To cut one’s losses means to cease participating in something that is failing or causing harm to oneself. To cut one’s losses means to stop participating in a situation that is doomed to failure, incurring losses accrued up to that time but not incurring further losses. The expression cut one’s losses is attributed to David Ricardo, an economist on the London Stock Exchange at the turn of the nineteenth century. He admonished investors to “cut short your losses” and “let your profits run on.” Related phrases are cuts one’s losses, cutting one’s losses. Though the expression to cut one’s losses originally referred to business investments, the phrase is now also often used to mean to cut one’s emotional losses.



    “When I saw that the market has changed, I cut my losses.” (The Mail and Guardian)

    After looking into the situation, albeit a little too late, I decided to cut my losses and not re-enroll. (The Daily Titan)

    The optimists will say that there is always sunshine after the rain (as our Prime Minister said in his recent speech) while the more practical realists will know when to cut their losses. (The Star)

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