What does "...cut right to..." mean in the following context?

In France, the modernized and centralized state that emerged in the Third Republic united the nation and allowed a mass media culture to emerge. The entire population, receiving the same information and the same interpretation of the news, was galvanized by various events, such as the Dreyfus Affair, which cut right to the heart of French society.

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  • 2
    "Cut right to the heart" is an idiom, with obvious meaning if you understand the metaphorical meanings of "heart". – Hot Licks Sep 18 '15 at 22:59
  • Please include your research, including which dictionaries and sites you've checked before posting your question. – Kristina Lopez Sep 18 '15 at 23:19

To cut to the heart of something is a metaphorical expression meaning to seriously affect the essence or soul of something. To cut to something means to make a cut leading towards something, because you are moving the blade in its direction. To cut right to something means you cut in a straight line, no detours. The heart of something is metaphorically its essential life force, the seat of its emotions, its essence.

So the Dreyfus Affair, with its potential anti-Semitism and treason, directly affected French society, in a way that touched upon its emotions and its perceived essence.


The idiom has two meanings. The first with regard to people means to deal a hurtful metaphorical blow. From The Hamiltons, Or, the New Aera by C. G. Frances:

Yet, trivial as were these remarks, and careless the tone in which they were uttered, not a syllable but cut right to the heart of his wife!

The second with regards to issues or problems means to illuminate the the basics with regards to those issues or problems. From The Limits of Empire by R. J. McMahon:

He cut right to the heart of the matter, observing that "we could not alienate them in the Orient and expect to work with them in Europe."

The speaker is Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State under Franklin Roosevelt talking about the difficulty of dealing with European powers about their administration of their colonies in the southwest Pacific.

The first meaning is appropriate here. The Dreyfus Affair was notorious scandal in which antisemitic members of the French military falsely accused a Jewish captain in the French army of espionage. The scandal created a deep wound in French society, which was split into two camps of bitter enemies, the dreyfusards and the antidreyfusards.

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