Cut Up | What does this phrasal verb mean?

The verb that we are going to look at today, cut up , has some very intuitive and easy-to-understand meanings; others less. Let’s examine the meanings one by one.

1 – The first meaning for the list is also the most obvious: “cut (in pieces)”. After all, cut is “to cut”, nothing fairer than at least one of the senses of cut up remaining faithful to the root verb. In this sense, cut up can mean “cutting” or “slicing”.

Could you cut the pizza up , please?
Could you slice the pizza , please?

He cut the paper up into little pieces.
He cut the paper into small pieces.

You need to cut up these onions so we can brown them.
You need to cut these onions so we can brown them.
(Note that brown, “brown”, was used as a verb in the sentence above – the meaning is “to brown”, or “to brown”.)

The electrician cut up the wires.
The electrician cut the cables.
(Note that the past of cut is also cut, not cutted.)

We cut the newspapers up .
We cut out the newspapers .

2 – A second meaning of cut up is “close” or “cut” someone in traffic: it’s what you do when you change lanes suddenly. Hey, please at least use the blinker!

Add idiot cut me up on the motorway.
Some idiot shut me down on the highway.

They were crossing from lane to lane, cutting everyone up .
They were crossing from lane to lane, cutting through everyone .

She went up on the pavement, cut up a lorry, jumped a light.
She climbed onto the sidewalk, closed a truck, ran a red light.
(Note the expression jump a light, literally “jumping a light”. The reference here is to traffic lights, “traffic lights” or “traffic lights.”)

3 – Now we have a sense of those that you can’t always guess from the context alone – that’s why there are dictionaries! Here, cut up is always used in the past, as an adjective, and means “very upset” or “upset”. Generally used with the preposition about : cut up about something .

Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event.
Scrooge was not so terribly upset by the sad event .
(Yes, you guessed it: this example comes directly from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol! For you to see that the expression has been in the English language since at least 1843!)

He was very cut up about Stephen dying.
He was very upset about Stephen’s death .

She was real cut up about the hens.
She was super upset about the chickens.
(Another thing to note is the use of real instead of really: this is a colloquialism used especially in the US and tends to denote low education. Better keep using really.)

She was all cut up about her divorce.
She was all upset about the divorce.

You could see how cut up she was.
I could see how upset she was.

I was terribly cut up when she left.
I was extremely upset when she left.

4 – Cut up can also mean “harshly criticizing” or “ending” someone:

I thought I had done a good job on the project, but my boss just cut it up , pointing out every little thing I had overlooked.
I thought I had done a good job with the project, but my boss just criticized him harshly , pointing out every little thing I had missed.

Jane is such a gossip. She was really cutting Mrs. Jones up .
Jane is such a gossip. She was really breaking up with Mrs Jones .

The teacher really cut up my essay.
The teacher really ended my essay.

The judge cut me up for arriving late.
The judge broke up with me for being late.

5 – One more meaning nothing to do: cut up can mean “to make people laugh”, “to provoke laughter”.

That comedian’s routine really cut me up .
The number comedian that made me laugh really .
(See that routine, although it usually means the same thing as “routine”, is a false friend in the sentence above, as it means the same thing as “number” – that is, the series of movements or actions that make up a circus show , etc.)

Tommy’s rude noises cut the whole class up , but not the teacher.
Tommy’s rude noises made the whole class burst into laughter , but not the teacher.

His remark cut up the rest of the group, but I just didn’t think it was funny.
His comment elicited laughter from the rest of the group, but I just didn’t think it was funny.

6 – Cut up can mean “make a mess”, “get ready” or “playing around” – it is used especially in relation to children.

On the last night of camp the children usually cut up .
On the last night of camp, the kids usually make a mess .

Boys! Stop cutting up and focus on these math problems!
Boys! Stop messing around and focus on those math problems!

The children often cut up and are hard to deal with.
Children are often messy and difficult to deal with.

7 – Finally, cut up rough is a phrase that means “beginning to get violent” or “lose your cool”.

After a beer or two the boys began to cut up rough .
After a beer or two, the boys started to lose their temper .

Be careful with him, he can cut up tough when you least expect it.
Watch out for him, he can turn violent when you least expect it.

Don’t leave those guys alone together — they’ve been known to cut up rough when they disagree with each other.
Don’t leave these guys alone with each other – there have been cases of them turning violent when they disagree with each other.
(Note the expression known to here, which does not translate literally.)

by Abdullah Sam
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