cut of one's jib

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Different shapes of jib sails. (The jib on the right, which overlaps the mainsail, is called a genoa.)

From cut (a way of shaping or styling) and jib (a triangular staysail set forward of the foremast), originally a nautical expression[1] alluding to the identification of far-off sailing vessels by the shape of their sails.[2] The idiomatic sense may have been influenced by the similarity of a triangular jib sail to a person’s nose.[3]



cut of one's jib (plural cut of their jibs or cuts of their jibs)

  1. (idiomatic, dated) A person's general appearance, manner, or style. [from early 19th c.]
    • 1823 December 23 (indicated as 1824), [Walter Scott], “An Old-world Landlady”, in St Ronan’s Well. [], volume I, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, pages 27–28:
      We have only farther to notice Meg's mode of conducting herself towards chance travellers, who, [] stumbled upon her house of entertainment. Her reception of these was as precarious as the hospitality of a savage nation to sailors shipwrecked on their coast. [] [I]f she disliked what the sailor calls the cut of their jibb—or if, above all, they were critical about their accommodations, none so likely as Meg to give them what in her country is called a sloan.
    • 1829, [Frederick Marryat], chapter V, in The Naval Officer; or, Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay. [], volume II, London: Henry Colburn, [], →OCLC, page 132:
      About eleven o'clock, the captains who were to be our Minos and our Rhadamanthus, made their appearance, and we all agreed that we did not much like the "cut of their jibs."
    • 1833, [Frederick Marryat], chapter IV, in Peter Simple. [], volume I, London: Saunders and Otley, [], published 1834, →OCLC, page 20:
      I axes you, because I see you're a sailor by the cut of your jib.
    • 1853, Pisistratus Caxton [pseudonym; Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter XXIII, in “My Novel”; Or Varieties in English Life [], volume I, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, →OCLC, book fourth, page 366:
      "You'll not know him from any one else," said Mrs Avenel. "Well, that is a good one! Not know an Avenel! We've all the same cut of the jib—have we not, father?"
    • 1896, Robert Barr, chapter XIII, in A Woman Intervenes: Or The Mistress of the Mine, New York, N.Y., London: Frederick A[bbott] Stokes Company, →OCLC, page 122:
      I have seen that girl on the deck, and I like the cut of her jib. I like the way she walks. Her independence suits me.
    • 1911, John Oxenham [pseudonym; William Arthur Dunkerley], “An Unexpected Guest”, in The Coil of Carne, Toronto, Ont.: The Copp, Clark Co., →OCLC, page 157:
      Jack thinks, by the cut of their jibs, they were Frenchmen, one an officer and the other his servant.
    • 1922 February, James Joyce, “[Episode 13: Nausicaa]”, in Ulysses, Paris: Shakespeare and Company, [], →OCLC, part II [Odyssey], page 351:
      Mr Bloom watched her as she limped away. Poor girl! That's why she's left on the shelf and the others did a sprint. Thought something was wrong by the cut of her jib. Jilted beauty. A defect is ten times worse in a woman.
    • 1934, John Masefield, The Taking of the Gry, London: William Heinemann, →OCLC, page 22:
      We were drawn together from the first as young men will be: we liked the cuts of each other's jibs: we were both sailors (and there is only one sea-service in spite of the guns and gold-lace) and then the far distant dim relationship gave us the feeling that many of the barriers, of race and faith and custom, were down from between us.
    • 1959, Ken Jones, “The Eagles Gather”, in Destroyer Squadron 23: Combat Exploits of Arleigh Burke’s Gallant Force, Philadelphia, Pa., New York, N.Y.: Book Division, Chilton Company, →OCLC, page 60:
      "By the cut of their jibs I shall know them!" That's the way Ham Hamberger summed it up as he looked ahead to his coming battle employment, and speculated upon those with whom he would be called upon to serve—not knowing. And by the cut of their jibs he did know them when the time came, and they him, []
    • 1993, Conan O'Brien, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, Bill Canterbury, Treehouse of Horror IV (The Simpsons), season 5, episode 5, spoken by Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer), 20th Century Fox:
      Mr. Burns: Who's that goat-legged fellow? I like the cut of his jib. / Waylon Smithers: Uh, the Prince of Darkness, sir. He's your eleven o'clock.
    • 2003 June, Ted Bell, chapter 42, in Hawke [], New York, N.Y.: Atria Books, →ISBN, page 277:
      "You don't like me much, do you?" / "Let's just say I don't like the cut of your jib, Mr. Tate."

Usage notes[edit]

  • Often used in the form “to like (or dislike) the cut of someone’s jib”.



  1. ^ Compare “the cut of one’s jib” under jib, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2023; “the cut of someone’s jib” under jib1, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ See, for example, J[ames] W[ilkes] Maurice (1805 June 19) “Official Account of the Loss of the Diamond Rock. [Letter to Rear-Admiral Alexander Cochrane.]”, in The Naval Chronicle for 1806: [], volume XV, London: [] Joyce Gold, []; [a]nd sold by Messrs. Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, [et al.], published 1806, →OCLC, page 125:On the 16th of May, at half-past-seven in the morning, saw a large ship rounding Point Saline, and from her appearance I plainly saw she was a ship of the line, and from the cut of her sails an enemy.
  3. ^ Gary Martin (1997–) “Cut of your jib”, in The Phrase Finder, retrieved 26 February 2017.

Further reading[edit]