The Sport of Cutting

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, December 16, 2010  (A 1, front page)

Rodeo Drive:  Rich Urban Cowboys On Fine Horses Best Ranch Hands

In Sport of Cutting, Naysayers Eat Their Stetsons Over Ex-Bankers’ Success

by Kevin Helliker


“When he was a titan of Wall Street, Thomas H. Bailey didn’t even know how to mount a horse.

Yet since retiring as chief executive of Janus Capital Group Inc. in 2002, Mr. Bailey has become a rising star in the cowboy sport of cutting.”

Cutting is a sport originally of ranch hands in the west, of cowboys and cowgirls, yes, cowgirls who often compete in the sport and who take over some of the ranch duties when the men are off at war or an extra hand is needed.  To “cut” a steer or a calf out of the herd, one needs a trained cowhorse bred to do the job.  From the article I can’t tell if Mr. Bailey used a lariat to rope the calf/steer or he simply cut it out of the herd and then used the horse by dashing “side to side to prevent the animal from rejoining the herd.”  Normally, western cowboys use a lariat to catch a cow, wrap the rope around the saddle horn, the horse stops, he/she jumps off and ties up the calf’s legs.  Often two cowboys do this together on a ranch, but not necessarily in a competition.

However, Mr. Bailey has earned nearly $90,000 in the sport and Matt Gains, a champion cutter has earned $5.7 million, according to the article.  I have mixed feelings about “urban cowboys” getting into the sport; how are  ranch hands going to win in a sport that is traditionally theirs?  I come from a family of cattlemen and women;  don’t like it.

However, for the idiomatic use:  If one cuts a firm or a person out of the deal, or cuts a person from a sports team, that person is out or the deal is lost.  I don’t think cutting/cuts in this sense has been related to western rodeo sports, but could be.  Don’t know.  Many idiomatic uses of sports or games metaphors are related to the sport they know best or a sport presently in the news.  For instance, ranchers bidding on a horse, a ranch or other, might cut another out of the deal by bidding higher.  (In the American College Dictionary cut/cutting has about a hundred uses; it can be a noun, a verb, and adjective.  It is used in other sports, such as football.)

Musing on the above, I happened to think of  ranch work, as opposed to rodeo sport: the young males are cut from the herd, then castrated so they grow into steers, not bulls, and branded with the ranch brand.

In reference to the lead of this article, In Sport of Cutting, Naysayers Eat Their Stetsons Over Ex-Bankers’ Success, a Stetson hat has been the western ranch hat of choice for generations.  Eat their hat is often a gambling term for a bet: if you win you take the winnings; if you lose you eat your hat.

In summary, “eat your hat” is definitely used in the idiomatic sense in the title.  “Cut a deal” would be, but “cutting a calf” is not, as it is the normal use to the verb.






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