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Cut Blocks with a Razor

(To). To do something astounding by insignificant means; to do something more eccentric than inexpedient. According to Dean Swift, to “make pincushions of sunbeams.” The tale is that Accius, or Attus Navius, a Roman augur, opposed the king Tarquin the Elder, who wished to double the number of senators. Tarquin, to throw ridicule on the angur, sneered at his pretensions of augury, and asked him if he could do what was then in his thoughts. “Undoubtedly,” replied Navius; and Tarquin with a laugh, said, “Why, I was thinking whether I could cut through this whetstone with a razor.” “Cut boldly,” cried Navius, and the whetstone was cleft in two. This story forms the subject of one of Bon Gaultier's ballads, and Goldsmith refers to it in his Retaliation:

In short, `twas his [Burke's] fate, unemployed or in place, sir,
To eat mutton cold, and cut blocks with a razor
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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