8 Expressions with the Word Quick

By Maeve Maddox

The English word quick is related to Latin vivus, “alive.”

The version of the Apostle’s Creed I grew up with contains this sentence: “Thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The line echoes 1 Peter 4:5 (KJV): ‘Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” The “quick and the dead” are the “living and the dead.”

When a fetus begins to move in the womb, it is said to quicken, that is, “show signs of life.”

Because motion is an attribute of being alive, quick has come to have the additional meaning of “rapidity of movement.”

The OED entry for quick offers numerous definitions, but this post is limited to eight idioms that employ the word in its senses of “living” and “rapid.”

1. quickie
In the 1920s, quickie was Hollywood slang for a Grade B movie because such a film was made quickly, often in a few days. By the 1930s, the term was being used to mean “a quick act of coitus.” Nowadays, the sexual connotation seems to be the most common for the noun, but attributively, the word quickie is used to indicate that something took place quickly or was of brief duration, for example, “a quickie divorce,” “a quickie interview,” “a quickie nap,” etc.

2. quick and dirty
The OED entry shows that quick-and-dirty was in use at the turn of the 19th century in reference to a restaurant or diner that served cheap, quick meals: “I was far too proud to ever think of becoming a house maid or a waitress in one of those quick and dirty lunch places” (1896).

In modern usage, the phrase means “done or produced hastily but effectively; makeshift”—a meaning similar to that of “jerry-rigged.”

3. quick fix
Although in use in the 1960s, the expression’s popularity began to rise in the 1980s. A “quick fix” is “a quick and easy remedy or solution.” Such a remedy is often expedient but temporary and fails to address underlying problems.

4. quick on the draw
The stereotype of the Western gunslinger is that of a man who could draw his gun from its holster instantly. Another idiom that references the quickness of the gunslinger is “quick on the trigger.” Both mean “quick to act or react.”

5. quicksand
Quicksand is a bed of sand usually saturated with water. Because it is semi-liquid, it tends to suck down objects that rest on its surface. The name derives from the fact that the bed shifts as if it were alive and breathing.

Figuratively, quicksand implies something treacherous, dangerous, and difficult to get out of. For example: “It may be the only policy that can save us, long-term, from sinking into the quicksand of endless war and bankruptcy or nuclear Armageddon.”

6. quickset
Stories set in the English countryside frequently include mention of quickset. Farmers separate fields with fences and hedges. Fences are made of dead wood. Quickset is a living hedge. Plants with thorns are preferred for this use, usually hawthorn.

7. quicksilver
Anyone who has ever broken a thermometer and played with mercury can understand why the element is also known as quicksilver. Shiny silver in appearance, the substance moves as if it were alive.

Figuratively, quicksilver is used in the sense of very fast or mercurial. It’s often used as an adjective. For example, “Colbert was as quicksilver with his wit as Fred [Astaire] was with his feet.” 

8. cut to the quick
If in trimming your nails you cut too far, the pain informs you that you have cut yourself “to the quick.” This quick is the flesh below the nails or skin that hurts when it is cut. Figuratively, this kind of quick represents the essence of one’s being. The expression “to be cut to the quick” means, “to be deeply hurt.” For example, “His remark cut her to the quick.”

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2 Responses to “8 Expressions with the Word Quick”

  • thebluebird11

    Great little post! I didn’t know of the use of quick to mean living.

  • venqax

    Interesting. The definition related to being alive by association with movement is present in the English common law where a “quick child” was one in the womb that had begun to move or “kick”. It relates, interestingly enough, to traditional notions about abortion of pregnancies with the general “dividing line” being whether or not the child in the womb had “become quick”: before, okay; afterward, not okay. The term is still used and relevant to issues like liability for the death of a fetus or unborn child in civil and criminal contexts.

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