Word Nerd : Cutter

The crew of U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alert pauses for a quick photo while refueling in San Diego in 2013.

Cutter [kʌt•ər]


1. a person who cuts things for a living; the term is especially used in tailoring and masonry

2. a machine that performs cuts

3. Nautical. a small- to medium-sized sailing ship rigged with a single mast that is built for speed instead of cargo capacity. Conversely, the U.S. Coast Guard uses the same term to define any number of different classifications of vessels that are longer than 65 feet in length and are equipped with adequate living conditions on board for a permanently assigned crew


The root verb cut can be traced back to entering Middle English around 1300 as either cutten or kitten and probably arrived from a Scandinavian source like the Old Norse kuti, which means “little knife.”

Cutter, as it applies to the sailing vessel, is first recorded in 1762, and the term became widespread in both Britain and the U.S. in the 19th century as the popularity of the ship grew. The U.S. Coast Guard adopted the term for general usage upon its inception in 1790 when the maritime force was then known as the Revenue Marine. The force was officially renamed the Revenue Cutter Service in 1863 during the American Civil War.

“The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Steadfast returned to homeport in Astoria Thursday. During a two-month counternarcotics patrol off the West Coast, the Steadfast intercepted several vessels smuggling cocaine and delivered wheelchairs to a shelter. According to the Coast Guard, the 210-foot cutter intercepted more than 4,800 pounds of cocaine with a street value of more than $71 million.”

—“Cutter Steadfast seizes cocaine, delivers wheelchairs during patrol,” The Daily Astorian, Sept. 16, 2016

“If all goes well, and there is scant reason to believe that it will not, the revenue cutter Perry will deport tonight for the sound. Whether or not she will ever again return to Astoria is a question that can not be answered.”

—“Perry goes to Seattle,” The Morning Astorian, Thursday, May 26, 1994, P. 6

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