Oh dear, Hilary Mantel...

colleenoz

I’m currently reading The Mirror and the Light. I am enjoying it, but my brain hit a speed bump when one of her characters said something to the effect of, “As they say in playing tennis, let’s cut to the chase.”

As far as I’m aware, no one playing tennis has ever said this, and I cannot imagine what “the chase” might be in tennis. This is a movie idiom coined in the silent movie era, meaning, “cut out the long boring speech and go to the exciting scene where the bad guys are chasing the stage coach or the cops are chasing the robbers or whatever”. It is thought it may have been inspired by the direction in late Victorian times for actors giving matinee performances of Hamlet, where to shorten the play time they cut out a lot of the soliloquies and “cut to Hecuba”. Of course this postdates the action in The Mirror and the Light as well.

I admit I’m a little disappointed in Ms Mantel.

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annpanagain

Colleen, where is that in the book? I have a copy and would like to check it out.

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colleenoz

Hi Annpan, it's in Chapter 2 (The Five Wounds), about 2/3 of the way through. Cromwell is speaking with Chapuys about the uprising in the north. It's actually Chapuys who says "Why do we not, as the tennis players say, cut to the chase?" In my Kindle edition it's page 308 but I don't know if pagination is the same as in print editions.

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vee_new

Colleen, apparently 'cut to the chase' is one of the rules used in real/royal tennis, Needless to say I'm not familiar with the game but there is an indoor real-tennis court as Hampton Court Palace which was used by Henry VIII and others back then.

I know what you mean about inappropriate expressions being used out of context, but I think Ms Mantel has spent more than three years doing her homework and possibly if we disagree with this National Treasure we might find ourselves languishing in the Tower.


Real/Royal Tennis


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annpanagain

Colleen, when you mentioned it, I wondered if the expression perhaps had something to do with Royal Tennis. I suppose I took it as that when I read the book as it didn't grate on me then! Thanks for the page pointer, it would have been a bit much trying to find the reference!

I have seen the tennis court at Hampton Court Palace a few times as it was a favourite place for us to visit with my mother who was a great fan of the Tudors! I think that it is still used and I have a vague memory of seeing it being played on with balls hit into the roofs at the side as part of the game.

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colleenoz

I watched your video three times, vee, and I see that there's something called a "chaser", and that if the non-serving player bounces a ball on the chaser and then again, then when they get to match point they change sides and the non-serving player tries to prevent the server from hitting the ball past where the second bounce landed, but this would be my opinion as to whether "cut to the chase" is actually a phrase used in or regarding real tennis, at least in the time frame of The Mirror and the Light.

Discussion regarding real tennis and "cut to the chase".

There don't seem to be any contemporary references that I can find and I do wonder if it's a more modern expression that has been taken up in more recent decades by real tennis players.

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vee_new


Rules of Royal/Real Tennis

Well the above real tennis rules are as clear as mud! I expect it is much the same as someone trying to explain the finer details of cricket to an American . . . or to me, come to that.

Colleen, whether the expression 'cut to the chase' meaning to get down to the nitty-gritty, was used in Tudor times is interesting and probably impossible to prove unless there is a quotation from Shakespeare or similar and I suppose it is likely to have had its origins in the game, although as a sport only played by the wealthy I wonder how it became common-place?

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yoyobon_gw

Rule #1 : Write for your reader.

If an expression is exclusionary then perhaps another phrase would be better understood.

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annpanagain

Vee, although played by the wealthy, there would have been common serving men on hand and they could have picked up on the saying...just saying!

Then there is a possibility of it coming from France, didn't they play tennis back then? Anyone read French written around that time?

My wild flight of fancy as to an origin!

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vee_new

Annpan, I'm sure it would have been played in France, probably before coming to England especially when you consider that French-English royalty/nobility were almost one and the same thing. Think of Henry V and the insult over the tennis balls!

Yoyo, I think 'cut to the chase' is quite a common expression over here, even if we don't know its origin!

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HU-2546168

I have just been checking the Oxford English Dictionary and the OUP's other reference works (including Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable) online, and they all give the origin of "cut to the chase" as the early years of film making. They make no reference to real tennis.

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HU-2546168

Oh and the phrase occurs on page 308 by the way.

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annpanagain

Perhaps Hilary Mantel could be asked where she got it from?

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vee_new

There are plenty of references for cut to the chase' to be found online in connection with Real Tennis.

Other expressions that can be linked to the game are

"Off the wall"

"In the nick of time"

"From pillar to post"

"Impress the gallery"

Of course this doesn't mean it wasn't used in early filming . . . just that it can be traced much further back.


Royal Tennis

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HU-2546168

I agree that there are plenty of claims online that "cut to the chase" originated in Real Tennis, but are there any authoritative contemporary sources that substantiate these claims?

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vee_new

There you have me HU! Perhaps there is some mention in Shakespeare, Marlowe or Pepys . . . or in some old French literature.

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annpanagain

...or ask Hilary Mantel. (See above!)

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vee_new

Annpan, Mantel is now a VIP and says she will write no more books for several years as she wants her life back. I doubt she would answer a question from anyone here . .. . of course I could be quite wrong . . . I often am.

'Cut to the chase' is also apparently an expression in French "Je vais couper á la chasse" but again I don't know how far back it goes.


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HU-2546168

Thanks for these comments. For what it is worth, I have emailed my query to her publishers, but no doubt I am one of thousands of little pedants seeking to pick holes in this and that. Thus are urban myths born.

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