cut to the quick

“Cut to the quick” means to injure deeply or to wound, especially emotionally.

The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins says, “Historically, both the noun ‘quick’ and the adjective and adverb forms come from the same root, the Anglo-Saxon ‘cwicu,’ meaning ‘alive or living.'” Literary examples date back at least to the early 1500s, in works by Shakespeare, Dryden, Swift, and Defoe, to name a few. 

The phrase “You have cut me to the quick” is a holdover from the original meaning of the word. Literally, it means to cut through the skin to the living tissue. Figuratively, it means, “You have hurt my feelings.”

Some other words still in use today which carry the original meaning of quick include quicklime, literally “living lime,” quicksand meaning “living sand,” and the noun “quick” referring to the living flesh beneath the dead fingernail. The current meaning of “quick” as “rapid” did not emerge until the 1200s.

Another way of wounding someone is to “lower the boom” on them. 

This means to scold or punish a person severely and is slang originating in the early 1900s. It has also been used in boxing to mean delivering a knockout punch.

A boom is a long spar used on sailboats and extends from the mast to hold the foot of the sail. In a changing wind, the boom can swing wildly, leaving anyone on deck at risk of being struck. Booms are also used backstage in theatres to move scenery. If someone actually lowered either one of these on your head, that might be the end of you. 

Derrick, a famous hangman during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, devised the prototype for the ship’s boom, a hoist that still bears the inventor’s name. 

Interesting that capital punishment has provided a term for the building trade.

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