word usage: cut down vs. prune

Our next door neighbors to the south are, I think, an older Latino couple. We don’t see much of them, but we do see the adult children, who are frequently around helping out. One of the sons knocked on the door one day and said he was going to “cut down the tree.” I was glad to have the warning, because nearly half of the branches of that tree hung over into our yard. But this surprised me a little, because the tree seemed perfectly healthy.

English is clearly not his first language, and his command of English is not the best. As it turned out, he did not cut down the tree at all, but simply pruned it way back. Now the distinction in English between “cut down” and “cut back” or “prune back” is not all that subtle, so you can see where I would say that his English skills are not all that strong.

Whatever his English proficiency, the tree has been pruned and the leaf canopy is gone. That means, for a couple of years at least, no more massive amounts of leaves falling in our yard in January. It also means more light and therefore, with luck, a bigger, brighter tulip crop for Terry in the spring.

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