I came across this sentence in a documentary:

[That] cut to the heart of the larger story I was investigating.

The meaning appears to be "to touch on/get to the crux of the issue." But strangely enough I can't find a dictionary definition of this phrase. Google shows "cut to the heart" also appears in certain versions of the Bible with a different and unrelated meaning, "to be hurt emotionally."

Are there any authoritative sources, such as dictionary entries that explain this phrase? I would also like to know the etymologies of this two meanings, e.g. which translation of the Bible first used "cut to the heart" and did its meaning originate with that translation?

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    It's a relatively recent phrase -- only goes back to 1700 or so. – Hot Licks Apr 10 '18 at 17:59

The OED has this sense of "cut":

fig. (trans.). To wound deeply the feelings of; to distress greatly. Now chiefly in phr. to cut to the heart.

The first citation they have for this sense of the word is from a bible from 1582, the Douay–Rheims Bible:

When they had heard these things, it cut them to the hart.

This is obviously the second meaning you mentioned ("to be hurt emotionally"). Apparently, it's the older of the two expressions, since "heart" meaning "essential part" only dates back to Shakespeare, judging from the OED's first citation:

Our deere cosin Hamlet Hath lost the very heart of all his sence.
Hamlet (1603)

It's hard to say when exactly "cut to the heart [of X]" came into use. It may be based off the expression "cut to the chase" (which is a film-based idiom that dates back to at least 1929).


What part of the bible did you find that in, and which translation (e.g. ESV, NASB, NIV, etc.)?

The modern use of that phrase means "get to the core" or as you said "the crux" since the heart represents the center.

Maybe this will help: the "heart" in the middle ages sometimes meant "stomach" or vise versa, since it was believed all man's emotions arise from the stomach. The "heart of man" means more than the organ that pumps blood; it is the metaphysical collection of a man's feelings and or being.

I have a feeling that in the bible, that could be much more literal. To cut into the blood-pumper, as it were.

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