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as in I spoke off the cuff or an off-the-cuff kind of response.

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closed as general reference by tchrist, Carlo_R., Matt E. Эллен, Jasper Loy, Barrie England Oct 15 '12 at 14:15

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Please check etymonline before asking etymology questions. Off the cuff. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 15 '12 at 13:44
Language Log has a comprehensive discussion of the etymology of this phrase here: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4130 . And there is an update on this here: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=17850 – Shoe Feb 21 '15 at 20:08
up vote 2 down vote accepted

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=off+the+cuff&searchmode=none says

Off the cuff "extemporaneously" is 1938 American English colloquial, suggesting an actor or speaker reading from notes jotted on his shirt sleeves rather than learned lines.

It's fairly common for students today to write notes on their hands or wrists. I guess in the 1930s it was common for people to write notes on their shirt cuffs -- well, if not common to actual do, at least an idea that many were familiar with. So if you were going to give a speech but hadn't actually prepared something and written it up, you might jot some hasty notes to yourself on your shirt cuffs. Then you were speaking "off the cuff" rather than from a prepared text.

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