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A comment on this question notes that the phrase "put paid to" (meaning put a stop to) is unlikely to be understood in the US. Another comment indicates that the phrase is widely understood throughout the English-speaking world, but also notes that it is chiefly British.

This leaves me a little confused as to whether I should expect this phrase to be understood outside of the UK. Is this phrase widely understood in English-speaking places like Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, etc?

(A comment asked me to define "widely understood". Admittedly, any definition will be subjective/arbitrary, but I'm thinking something along the lines of ">=70% of speakers know what the phrase means" would constitute "widely understood" for a given locale)

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    I'm in the US, and I don't know what it means.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 16:13
  • Chiefly British. Whether it's familiar beyond there will probably depend on how familiar the person is with British culture, media, etc - it's hard to generalise.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 16:14
  • It's more common in BrE, but it's clearly being taken up in AmE as well, these days. But what's the point of everyone saying whether they recognize the usage or not? Define "widely understood". Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 16:42
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    It is present in McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. put paid to something to consider something closed or completed; to mark or indicate that something is no longer important or pending. (As if one were stamping a bill "paid".) At last, we were able to put paid to the matter of who is to manage the accounts.
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 18:31
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    To me, “put paid to” isn’t quite the same as “put a stop to”, as the latter suggests taking action to end something rather than an observation that it has ended.
    – Xanne
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 1:36

3 Answers 3

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“Put paid to” is a metaphor that depends on knowing about marking a bill as PAID by grabbing a rubber stamp, inking it (unless it has its own ink supply), and stamping the bill, usually in red.

A speaker may recognize the meaning of the phrase without that knowledge, but as the era of paper bills and inked stamps fades, the meaning depends on vocabulary knowledge rather than metaphor. Instead of wondering about its use, perhaps the question is whether an audience today would grasp the metaphor.

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  • You don't need to know the origin of an expression to be able to recognise its meaning, or to use it. It helps but there are hundreds of idioms whose origins are lost in time.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 4:40
  • This is a very helpful explanation, but it makes it more puzzling why the phrase would be a part of British English, and relatively unfamiliar in the United States, given that the rubber stamps of this kind were once widely used there as well.
    – jsw29
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 17:11
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A lot of sources deem it as British; for instance, it appears on this list of Britishisms. I don't know if the typical American or non-Englishperson would understand it.

A search for put paid in the Corpus of Contemporary American English only returns a little over 50 results for its use in print over the past 30 years. Here are two of their examples:

2015, National Review: Stick It To ’Em:

WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER. But sometimes it is, noted Bill Buckley. For instance, war put paid to the nazis and the Japanese fascists.

2011, Never a Gentleman by Eileen Dryer:

Diccan flinched from the thought. He tried one last time to believe that Grace Fairchild had orchestrated her own runaway marriage. One look at the high color on her ashen cheeks put paid to that. She was, just as he'd suspected, a pawn.

By contrast, the common alternative for put paid to is put a stop to, which returns over 1,000 results in a corpora search.

So it is sometimes used outside of America, it is sometimes used by American writers, but it remains associated with British English. I can't speak to whether it's used in Australia/NZ, but I doubt that >70% of people outside of the UK would understand it.

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    You seem to suggest that "a little over 50 results for its use in print over the past 30 years" is a significant amount ("it is used by American writers"), but I think that that level of use is trivial and can probably largely be attributed to other factors. (For example, the author of the Daily Beast article, Stephanie Theobald, is actually British.) It would be more useful if, for example, you compared use of "put paid to" to "put a stop to" so we could get some context. Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 18:13
  • @MarcInManhattan - updated. I agree that it's trivial, though I guess I didn't make that clear in the original version. Thanks for your suggestion to do a comparison. Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 18:18
  • Thanks. Yes, I think this is a better explanation. Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 18:20
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I am a multi-published author in the US who lived in the UK for 3 years growing up. No one I know here ever uses the phrase put paid, and I only read it in the British online newspaper I subscribe to.

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