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The usage is confirmed as sense 8 of the adjectival cut per the OED - see below. However no etymology is given.

  1. slang. Drunk, intoxicated. 1673 R. Head Canting Acad. 171 He is flaw'd, fluster'd, Cup shot, cut in the leg or back. 1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew Cut, Drunk; Deep Cut..Cut in the Leg or Back, very drunk. 1760 C. Johnstone Chrysal I. ii. i. 137 Your excellency was a little cut, but you broke up much the strongest of the company. 1823 J. G. Lockhart Reginald Dalton I. i. vii. 73 I'm sure we had not much more than a bottle a-piece..I was not cut. 1848
    Thackeray Bk. Snobs xli. 160 I was so cut last night.
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    Is this a BrE artifact? Because I've never heard that usage.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 21:10
  • @Robusto I don’t know about in Britain, but this expression is common in Ireland, the half-cut variant in particular gets used a lot, often in a casual, jokey register.
    – k1eran
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 21:36
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    Never heard this either, but seeing “cut in the leg” from user240918 makes me think it could come from the staggering walk one might have if one’s leg was cut.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 21:39
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    @Robusto It is everyday slang in Britain or Ireland. "He was behaving as if he was half-cut". Indeed as k1eran points out "half-cut" is used more often than simply "cut".
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 22:32

1 Answer 1

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It appears to be a short for “cut in the back/leg” as suggested by Green’s Dictionary of Slang:

cut adj.1 - [abbr. cut in the back under cut v.2 ]

  • drunk; thus half-cut adj.2

cut in the back (adj.) (also cut in the eye, ...leg) [fig. use of SE]

  • very drunk.

  • 1650 [UK] *Eighth Liberal Science n.p.: No man must call a Good-fellow Drunkard [...] But if at any time they spie that defect in another, they may without any forfeit or just exceptions taken, say, He is Foxt, He is Flaw’d, He is Fluster’d, He is Suttle, Cupshot, Cut in the Leg or Back=, He hath seen the French King, He hath swallowed an Hair or a Taven-Token, he hath whipt the Cat, He hath been at the Scriveners and learned to make Indentures, He hath bit his Grannam, or is bit by a Barn Weasel.

Also, from Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang:

Cut adjective [18th century and still in use] drunk (abbreviation for Cut In The Leg, a facetious euphemism for being staggering drunk).

(www.wordwizard.com)

And from The Social Historian, in the list of 17th century euphemisms for being drunk, you have:

To have cut your leg.

so the idea appears to be from the effect of alcohol on the way you walk, as if your legs were “cut” that is unable to support you.

enter image description here

(www.merriam-webster.com/images)

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