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Idiom

Off the Cuff: Origin and Meaning

Meaning
An impromptu remark, something you say that hasn’t been prepared or rehearsed in advance.
Origin
Off the cuffUsing your hands and arms to take down notes is such a familiar occurrence and something that dates back to time immemorial. Convent Garden flower sellers probably used to do sums on their forearms and 19th century office clerks possibly jotted down file numbers on the back of their hands. I am sure that we have all scribbled something down on our body in order not to forget, and some of us might have even gone as far as covering our forearms in notes to cheat in an exam.

I suppose that in the olden days it wasn’t very common for noble men and women to show their forearms in public. The only way that they could jot down notes, prompts, or reminders in order to deliver an eloquent speech or recite poetry, was to use something that was easily accessible and just as easily tucked away or hidden, i.e.: the cuffs of their shirts. They were truly speaking off the cuff.
Examples
– I really didn’t want to offend you. It was just an off-the-cuff remark.

– He remembered every word of I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud off the cuff.

– I never thought I would win, so I didn’t prepare a speech. My speech was entirely off the cuff.
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