Strap in for another investigation of those old sayings that folks around particular regions of the country as well as the world have been using for so long that they’ve forgotten where the phrase originated from in the first place. Our language is peppered with these sayings and old adages. Today, let’s hold up our magnifying glass to the phrase “Off the Cuff” to see what it means and where it comes from.
If somebody is asking for your ideas in the moment, without any time to prepare, you might say the ideas you deliver are all you could come up with off the cuff. This phrase implies that your response is spontaneous and unrehearsed.
Off the cuff got its start on the stage. Performers from the 1800s would get inventive about keeping a sort of cheat sheet on their person to save them in case they forgot their lines during the performance. Lots of actors resorted to writing their lines right on their shirt cuffs. The audience wouldn’t be able to see, yet it was a very visible spot for the actors to read their notes.
Actors were likely using ‘Off the Cuff’ as a familiar phrase long before it showed up in print in 1936. In the same year, the famous director Charlie Chaplin made a film called ‘Modern Times’ in which a character writes lyrics on his shirt cuffs. When he gets on the stage, however, his shirt cuffs tear and fly off so he must improvise his performance—it’s a pretty funny scene.
Along with the phrase showing up in print in the same year, this scene from Chaplin’s film brought the phrase from the theater department to the rest of the world. The phrase was found to be handy in applications all across the board and has only grown in popularity.
Check back in when we return for another Adage Origin Blog post in December when we’ll take a look at the phrase ‘In the Bag’. As always, thanks for reading!