In software development there is the phrase "cut a release," which means "to create a final package of software ready for distribution" and may include the distribution itself. I've used it for years without thought, but suddenly realized it's not an obvious phrase at all. So, where did the phrase come from?

The oldest usage I can find is 1989's "Project Athena's Release Engineering Tricks": "We currently have to handcraft a kernel and boot-blocks to fit, each time we cut a release."

Digging through the entire set of verb definitions for "cut" in the online Oxford English Dictionary, I can find near-hits, but no direct connections. There are no entries for the phrase "cut a release. My best findings were:

"To severe, divide (a connection, association, etc.)" - Perhaps in the sense of removing a version of the source code from it's development process.

"To record; to make (a record)." - This is audio specific, but maybe it drifted? Example usage included "cut a disk"

"To sever oneself, free oneself, escape." - This is in the context of "cut loose," and I can see the idea of software "escaping."

"...perform, or accomplish (something). Chiefly in to cut it: to succeed, to deal with something effectively; to meet an expected or required standard in the performance of a task, to measure up." - This is a draft addition. Releasing software is often a task to be dealt with or to succeed at.

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    I would guess that it comes from the music industry, where you used to "cut" records. Aug 14, 2017 at 19:18
  • I always assumed it was borrowed from the music industry as well. No proof though.
    – Waylan
    Aug 14, 2017 at 19:25
  • 3
    Anecdotal, but I've always assumed that this came from 'cutting a CD' which in turn, as others have suggested, came from the vinyl-era music industry, where the master was indeed 'cut' on a lathe.
    – peterG
    Aug 14, 2017 at 20:50

3 Answers 3


As suggested in a couple of comments the expression probably derives from the older reference to to vinyl records, that is from the expression "cut a record". The expression was later used for CDs with the meaning of recording a CD.

Cut a record:

In the old days music was made by transferring vibrations from a rotating black disk of vinyl plastic via a needle sitting in a groove and ...up and ... out the speaker. So "cutting a record" was literally etching the long grove into the disk (although later the process did start in a studio where the song (technically the vibrations) were recorded on magnetic tape, so that is also called 'cutting a record.') A metal master is made in reverse, and then the stamping (pressing) into soft vinyl is the manufacturing part.

From (Yahoo answers)

  • "Cutting a release", I think it's borrowed from legalese: A "release" from a contract or other legally binding instrument. Also, a "release" is a legal form which gives permission to use someone's image, words, etc. "Cutting" is used in the sense of "to lop off" as in say, a large roll of paper. "Cutting a release" in the software sense, is a definition from recording industry "release a record" or present for sale/use and the legal sense, as detailed above.
    – M.Mat
    Aug 14, 2017 at 22:24
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    Actually, "cut", in the sound recording sense, goes back prior to vinyl. Before WWII most "records" were made from a brittle shellac-based material.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 15, 2017 at 22:09
  • @M.Mat I doubt the word "release" in this case is related directly to the legal use. I expect that David E Butler's answer explains where the word came from regarding software releases.
    – Barmar
    Aug 22, 2017 at 5:39

The origin may be more linked to film than records. Consider this Wikipedia explanation of "director's cut":

A director's cut is an edited version of a film (or television episode, music video, commercial, or video game) that is supposed to represent the director's own approved edit. 'Cut' explicitly refers to the process of film editing; in preparing a film for release, the director's cut is preceded by the assembly and rough editor's cut and usually followed by the final cut meant for the public film release.

Here the word cut has all the usual connotations--snipping off pieces, for example--and leaving parts on "the cutting room floor."


The noun "a release" is intended to formalise the process of releasing something into the public domain, so that it has a concrete sensibility - "a release" usually refers the the first version made public, but can also refer to "latest version", i.e. "latest release" of a piece of code, film, soundtrack, book, whatever. When the thing itself being released into the public domain has no actual physical substance (music, ideas, films) then there is a necessity to ground the language, and to do that you need a noun, so the verb "release" is changed into a noun.

It may be that in the context of the question, "a release" refers to the intial public release of a piece of software, even though there were many private versions. Instead of releasing the software then updating it, the actual release was held back - the compiler didn't have enough faith in the software to release it, but eventually decided to take the plunge and call it "a release" - i.e. a verson that functioned just enough that it was suitable of being released to the public, and then thought it was just like making a record, and wondering if people would like it, and felt like he or she had just "cut a record" and then changed "a record" to "a release".

If you reverse it: "to release a cut" it would work equally well to describe a different edit of a previously released film, hence the Director's Cut. Cut literally means the celluloid film "cut and spliced", here used metonymically, like "The Crown" for the state of Royal Sovereignty - "cut" means the film after editing: the cut.

The fact though, with "release a cut", is that in the film context "the cut" is a physical spool of plastic with coloured pictures on it, you can hold it, see it, carrying from one place to another, this is why the word "cut" works as a noun - metonynics, but it is right on the edge of tenuous.

But, to "cut a release" is not eytmologically derived from anything, all that is happening is the word order is being played with for the sake of novelty, so that it sounds different. People understand it because it is so hackneyed: it resonates both verb and noun as they can both be used in opposite ways in the same context - to release a cut, or to cut a release. The technical term to refer to this kind of use of English is nonsense - we know what it means but as soon as you scratch the surface it's meaningless.

It is someone trying to make something sound like a concrete thing about to happen, when there isn't actually a concrete thing happening. It is not metonymic because "a release" only refers the act of passing something from the private to the public domain, the thing itself doesn't change - a release isn't actually a physical thing like a crown, like a cut.

It could be that the person originally meant to "cut a leash" but was a drunk and it sounded like "cut a release" and someone else said,"hip dude".

To all intents and purposes it is just messing about with language and talking about something that doesn't exist in any material sense.

The problem with computer language and metaphors is the computer interface is itself a metaphor - so you can't do etymology on it. In the world of computers all metaphors work and you can sling two combinations together and find some answer for it. You can spend hours trying to find the root etymology, but it could equally be some neat expression coined by someone who made it up without any awareness of the history of the words he or she was using. Etymology is about a historical and cultural development of a word from a basic conceptual starting point - whereas computer language is just made up on the spur of the moment to attempt to define something that someone just made up. None of it exists except the tiny electrical pulses, in the silicon sliver.

  • That's a good comment, but it's not an answer, and doesn't really lead toward an answer.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 15, 2017 at 3:12
  • Yes. I apologise, it isn't an answer in the spirit of the question. My fear is the cognitive basis of language, its embodied metaphorical sensibility, is being lost and instead computers are breeding kitsch. The underlying metaphorical context of "cut a release" is to do with cutting the ties to the private domain and making something public - the same metaphor is used in variation across many fields where someone germinates an idea, gives it life, cuts the tie, and sets it free - publishes it, hence the parallel with films, music, there isn't an etymology here, someone just made it up. IMHO. Aug 15, 2017 at 20:54
  • The person who has given a detailed and researched answer has got a minus two - possibly because the question gives the private/public domain context as a clue that this is not about compilers' jargon - otherwise the answer by raceyouanytume is a good one - why minus 2 though? Aug 15, 2017 at 21:53

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