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What does "rounding a corner" mean in the following paragraph? Does it simply mean the action of turning? If so, I still don't get it.

"The idiom, 'cutting corners' was first seen in the 1800s. It is related to rounding a corner instead of taking the proper route."
Source

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    You've asked an excellent question, but the bottom line is that the text you're quoting is... unconventional. "Rounding a corner", certainly in British English, means "going round it" without any suggestion of taking a short cut. However, "rounding a corner" in workshop terms /does/ mean reducing its sharpness: which might or might not be desirable. Hence I suggest that the writer you're quoting had his idioms confused. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 7:55
  • Can you clarify if you are asking what "rounding a corner" means in general, or "rounding a corner" in the quoted paragraph? Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:33

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You should understand there is a literal meaning and a figurative one.

You've quoted a literal definition. There could well be other applications, but a common one in modern life is in turning in a vehicle at a junction. The link in your question even contains this definition:

When you come to a sharp turn in the road, instead of going all the way to the corner and then turning, you can go diagonally across, and “cut the corner off”. This saves time, but entails a risk of clipping the kerb and overturning or being involved in a pile-up with another vehicle. Thus “to cut corners” means to discard normal safe practice in order to get fast results.

A car cutting a corner

This image shows a red car taking the corner correctly, while a dotted line shows a 'corner-cutting' trajectory which is potentially dangerous as it crosses the lane reserved for traffic coming in the other direction.

'Cutting corners' is used in a figurative sense whenever something has been done to save resources (such as time or money) but at the overall expense of another more important measure such as quality. For example, if a builder uses cheaper materials to bring down the cost of a project, but then the building is of poor quality, maybe even structurally compromised as a direct result of the cuts.

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    Quite right that there are both literal and figurative meanings, but the example you show is not at all what I would understand as the literal one (and it's certainly not the figurative one). Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 20:03
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    @maurice I've never heard "rounding a corner" said to mean the same as cutting corners. If anything, it sounds like the opposite... in joinery, making a corner edge rounded could be additional finishing work. I think that your quotation is just using the words 'rounding a corner' to help describe what cutting one means. Hopefully the picture I found demonstrates one kind of 'cutting a corner' as well.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 20:03
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    @JohnBollinger Maybe not in your dialect of English, but n British English this is the most literal application of the expression. Figuratively, it tends to refer to cost or time-saving measures at expense of quality. I don't really think it matters what literal example I used to explain - it aptly demonstrates how a curved approach to something instead of taking the corner properly results in a problem.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 20:05
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    Ah! I realize here that it is not so much the language that is regionally sensitive, but the image! For those of us who drive on the right-hand side of the road, the image appears to portray an extra wide turn, not a too-sharp one. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 20:21
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    Fundamentally, I would associate this with 'cutting through <yards>' and not with driving. Homes on corners sometimes end up with a well-beaten path through their lawn because of kids 'cutting the corner' (as shown in theonlygusti's answer).
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 18:18
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What does "rounding a corner" mean in the following paragraph? Does it simply mean the action of turning?

I would ordinarily interpret "rounding a corner" as you say: as coming around or turning a corner. This usage is familiar to me.

But from context, the quotation is using it differently, to mean taking a curved route that shortcuts a corner instead of a traveling in a straight line to the corner, then turning and traveling in a straight line from there. Possibly the curvedness of the shortcut is not, in fact, important to that expression -- I'm not sure, since it is unfamiliar to me.

In any case, the overall idea of "cutting corners", from which I am inferring the intended meaning of "rounding a corner", is that you do something a little improperly in order to get it done easier or quicker.

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    This is my understanding of it as well. "Rounding a corner" simply denotes someone coming around a corner, and doesn't imply either "cutting" the corner or not. If anything, I feel I'd normally expect it in the context of someone walking around the corner of a building, and cutting a corner there would be difficult and/or painful.
    – Myles
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 15:22
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No, they don't mean the "turning" or the "circumnavigating" meanings of "rounding". They mean removing the sharp part of the corner so that the corner becomes (more) round. I think a better explanation of the imagery would be:

taking a shorter or less costly route by not including the whole corner

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All 4 permutations of to turn/round a/the corner normally mean begin to find success or improvement after a particularly difficult or troubling period. The metaphor here relates to changing direction - compare rounded the bend.

That's as opposed to cut corners (always plural) = do something quickly by doing it in a less thorough way than you should. This metaphoric usage relates to taking the shortest / straightest path possible.


I think it's worth mentioning that the full (subscription-only) Oxford English Dictionary isn't particularly helpful with their definition of to cut corners. Both literal and figurative usages are covered by this single definition...

21d to cut a corner or corners
to pass round a corner or corners as closely as possible; figurative, to pursue an economical or easy but hazardous course of action; to act in an unorthodox manner to save time; also, to act illegally.

...for which their first citation is both singular and "literal"...

1869 Mark Twain (Innocents Abroad)
He cuts a corner so closely now and then..that I feel myself ‘scrooching’, as the children say.

...but all their other 6 citations (starting with Rudyard Kipling, 1898) are plural and figurative.


The phrasing used by OP's cited source is easily understood by native speakers, but anyone who doesn't already know the idiomatic usages - and the fact that the figurative (use a "quick and dirty" solution) sense is always plural - might find it confusing.

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    I think that cut corners is a metaphor for the literal (geometric) act, rather than having any relation to the metaphor in the first paragraph. Too rushed now to find references, though. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 14:22
  • I don't understand what you mean. So far as I'm concerned, the metaphoric allusion in "cutting corners" is to taking a diagonal shortcut rather than going all the way to the corner and then turning 90° to get back as quickly as possible to the "direct, as the crow flies" path towards one's destination. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 16:51
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    Toby means that "cutting corners" and "rounding a corner" are completely unrelated phrases, and your answer makes them sound like they directly relate to each other. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 19:34
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    Ah, I see - you're saying that the the quote in the question is mixing two metaphors. That it's using "rounding" to really mean "rounding off" the corner rather than rounding as in turning the corner, which is what made me wonder the purpose of that first paragraph. That's introducing a different metaphor that wasn't asked about and doesn't seem relevant to a question about cutting corners. Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 11:21
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    Upvoted as this is the only answer that includes the metaphorical meaning of "rounding a corner". I think that's a usage that is both common, and hard to figure out if you're just learning English.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 18:37
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instead of walking like this enter image description here

you walk like this

enter image description here

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