Cut down on

When you “cut down on” something, you use less of it.

Today's story: Water on the moon
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Cut down on

Today’s expression is to “cut down on” something. When you cut down on something, you reduce something that’s either unnecessary, wasteful or undesirable. To cut down on something is to use less of it, in a good way.

It’s very common to use this when talking about your diet. If you have high blood pressure, you might be trying to cut down on salt. That means you’re trying to consume less salt in your diet. Some people cut down on carbohydrates. In fact, if you’ve ever followed the Atkins diet, you’ve probably cut way down on carbs. To “cut way down” is to reduce something by a lot. Personally, I’ve cut way down on added sugar. There are still a few things in my diet that have added sugar, but not many. I’ve made a real effort and I’ve cut way down on food with added sugar. I’ve reduced it a lot.

If you find that you waste a lot of food—if the food goes bad before you can eat it—you might try to cut down on waste. How can you cut down on food waste? You can plan your meals more effectively, buy smaller portions at the store, and freeze food that you can’t eat right away. Those are all good ways to cut down on food waste: to reduce the amount of food that you have to throw away.

You might say you’re trying to cut down on the number of emails you send and receive. Good luck with that! But if you do try to do that, what could you do? You can unsubscribe from a lot of email newsletters and email promotions—not ours, of course, but from other companies. At work, you can call someone on the phone instead of replying to an email; just having a five-minute call instead of a long correspondence could cut down on the number of emails in your inbox. If you can’t cut down on emails, you can at least cut down on the number of email-related distractions you have in your life. Turn off the new-email reminder windows and even close your email program while you work. Those are ways to cut down on the number of times you get interrupted during the day.

Do you remember how you heard “cut down on” in today’s main lesson? We were talking about rocket fuel, and how astronauts need to take all their rocket fuel with them on a long mission. But if they can generate some rocket fuel on the Moon, they can take less fuel with them from Earth. If they can generate some fuel up there on the Moon, they can cut down on the amount of fuel they take—and, consequently, they can cut down on the amount of fuel they use in the overall mission. Better to get some of it in outer space than to have to haul it all from the Earth.

Companies that manufacture products make mistakes: that’s simply part of the manufacturing process. In any given production process, there will be a certain amount of product that simply does not meet the final inspection standards and must be discarded. This is called the defect rate. In some industries, it might be one in every one thousand pieces produced. That means if you produce 1,000 products, just one will be defective. If that number starts to get too high—if you find that too many products are defective—you need to cut down on the defects.

Humans have a defect rate, too—I have a high one! It’s called human error; we all make mistakes. But in our jobs, if we find we’re making too many mistakes, we might try to cut down on mistakes. We would try to reduce the number of mistakes we make.

Some people advise us to cut down on the amount of energy we use at home by unplugging appliances if we’re not using them and switching off lights in unoccupied rooms. I’m not so sure that this cuts down on electricity usage in any meaningful way. But if I’m in just one room all day, I can cut down on my heating bill by using a small space heater instead of turning up the heat in my whole apartment.

JR’s song of the week

Today’s song of the week is “Dandelion” by Jealous of the Birds. A dandelion is a type of flower. This song appears in the Hulu series “Normal People” and it accompanies a scene where two people are riding their bikes from a country house into the nearby village. Some great scenery in that part of the show. “Dandelion” by Jealous of the Birds is JR’s Song of the Week.

See you next time!

And that brings us to the end of today’s lesson. I hope you enjoy it, as always, and please do remember that there’s even more where this came from at PlainEnglish.com. Can you believe we now have a library of 317 lessons? And if you’re a member, even a free member, you can browse the full history of expressions in our Expressions Library. So you can just page through and you’ll see hundreds of individual lessons just about expressions. That’s a great way to experience the full history we have here. And that’s included in the Free membership; just go to the home page at PlainEnglish.com/join and you can sign up for free.

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Story: Water on the moon