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Why are we using off here? What additional meaning does it add?

The meaning of off from http://tfd.com/off that suits this sentence is: "away (from a place, time etc.)".

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Please stop putting whitespaces before question marks. On a more general note, people put quite an effort into correcting your posts, so it would be nice if you started looking at the corrections and learning from them. Thanks. –  RegDwigнt May 1 '12 at 10:01
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I will take care of it from now onward. –  teenup May 1 '12 at 10:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

There's more than a hair's breadth of difference between these two statements!

The first simply means she had a haircut. Maybe she is now sporting a new style, or maybe she just had a trim.

The second means that her hair has been cut drastically short, if not completely shaved. It might be used if she once had very long hair, but, after her latest trip to the salon, it's now cut very short.

Note that the difference between cut and cut off can vary, depending on what's being cut.

She cut her finger means that she's bleeding, and may need to put a bandage on it. She cut her finger off means that, unless a doctor performs reattachment surgery, she'll only have four fingers for the rest of her life. He cut five pages from the back of the book might suggest an editor opted for a shorter ending. He cut off five pages from the back of the book could mean a bookbinder removed physical pages with an exacto knife.

For hair, however, she cut her hair is simply a common expression meaning she got a haircut. She cut her hair off suggests something far more drastic, which I've already explained.

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"unless a doctor performs reattachment surgery, she'll only have four fingers for the rest of her life" implies that she's cut off six fingers. Sorry, could not resist that! –  JeffSahol May 1 '12 at 13:07
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@JeffSahol: that's quite alright, I'll have to give you a hand for that joke ;^) –  J.R. May 1 '12 at 13:22
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If we want to get really pedantic, then it actually means she's cut off four fingers, as the thumb is considered a digit but not a finger. ;) –  Adam Robinson May 1 '12 at 14:14
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True, but in general usage a thumb qualifies. I think we can give him the finger. –  horatio May 1 '12 at 14:47
    
I really like jokes in the comments!! –  teenup May 1 '12 at 16:47

In English, the phrasal verb cut off is not the same as the verb cut. Cut certainly means "shorten, shave, shear, or slice". But off is not a preposition in the phrasal verb cut off - instead, the off modifies the meaning of the main verb. In this case off means something like "completely, drastically".

For another example, look at eat up. When you eat a hamburger, you simply ingest all or part of it. When you eat up a hamburger, you completely devour it.

The up in eat up does not mean "above, higher, or toward the sky". Similarly, the off in cut off does not mean "away", it means "completely".

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+1 for the related example. –  dj18 May 1 '12 at 18:49

The general meaning of cut off is "remove (something) from something larger by using a sharp implement."
When referring to hair, cutt off could mean the hair has been removed by cutting them completely, or the hair has been made very short.

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Does this really emphasize the complete cutting or being cut to very short length? I don't feel so, 'off' here according to me signifies that after cutting, the hairs were dropped on ground (separated) rather than still lying on the person. Although, this would be nonsense that hairs are still lying on the person after cutting. –  teenup May 1 '12 at 10:36
    
Its obvious, but 'off' just explicitly specifies this. I don't know, but this is my opinion. I put up a question just to confirm. –  teenup May 1 '12 at 10:38
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@poorenglish No, "off" does not mean "away or onto the floor" in this situation. –  Mark Beadles May 1 '12 at 12:05

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