Head someone off at the pass and cut someone off at the pass

Head someone off at the pass and cut someone off at the pass are idioms that are not as old as you may think. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, 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. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expressions head someone off at the pass and cut someone off at the pass, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

To head someone off at the pass or to cut someone off at the pass means to prevent someone from accomplishing something, to forestall an event, to intercept and redirect someone. Synonyms for these idioms that may be found in a thesaurus are ambush, block, thwart. The phrases head someone off at the pass and cut someone off at the pass come from a literal use of the terms. A common trope in pursuing villains in Western movies is to not to follow them outright, but to circle around to a mountain pass that the fugitives must traverse and corner them there. Many Western movies contain the phrase, “We’ll head ’em off at the pass!” The exact origin of these phrases has not been determined, but their use picked up considerably in the 1940s through 1960s, when Western movies were at the height of their popularity. Certainly the strategy of heading someone off at the pass as a military tactic has been in use since ancient times, but the idiomatic English phrases originated in the twentieth century. Related phrases are heads someone off at the pass, headed someone off at the pass, heading someone off at the pass, cuts someone off at the pass, cutting someone off at the pass.


You just have to try to head him off at the pass by putting in some kind of challenge before he gets anywhere near goal. (The Evening Standard)

“We sent a mobile unit out there who headed him off at the pass and he was returned to the appropriate social care,” a spokesman said. (The Mirror)

I responded on that and a kid came barreling out of the building and I got into a foot chase. … I wasn’t able to actually catch up with him but I kept radio contact with the other officers and they were able to cut him off at the pass, so to speak. (The Lewiston Tribune)

At the time, then Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said, “To use the Old West analogy, we have cut them off at the pass.” (The Charleston Post and Courier)

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