Fish or cut bait

  • Fish or cut bait is an American idiom. 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 fish or cut bait, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    To fish or cut bait is a challenge that means to either get to work and produce results or provide support to someone else who can get to work and produce results. The image invoked is of two men fishing with one rod. If the man fishing is not having any luck, he could be encouraged to relinquish the rod to his partner and provide him support by cutting up bait. The expression fish or cut bait came into use in the United States in the mid-1800s. A phrase with a similar meaning is lead, follow, or get out of the way.



    And that’s what the Big Ten leaders have been grappling with for months, and most especially in the past few days when the fish-or-cut-bait decision needs to be made. (Sports Illustrated)

    “We just really need to fish or cut bait with the decision to go online and work toward that,” said Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, of Helena. (The Missoulian)

    After more than two years of analyzing the options, including a $130,000 engineering study, town leaders must fish or cut bait. (The Mountaineer)

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