If someone gets away “scot-free,” that means they got away freely from punishment or harm.
Example: There was a house in our neighborhood that caught on fire in the middle of the night. We were worried about the people who lived there because we had no idea if they survived or not. Later on, however, we were informed that they got away scot-free.
In other words, the people whose house caught on fire escaped without harm.
Origin Of “Scott-Free”
This phrase is believed to have its origins somewhere in the 12th century, as that’s when a scot was a tax a person would have to pay in England.
What’s a scot, you ask? Well, according to Robert Hendrickson’s The Facts On File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, a scot “was a municipal tax in 12th-century England.” Hence, if someone were to avoid paying their taxes, they were getting away “scot-free.” Or in other words, they were getting away tax-free. Eventually, this phrase went on to describe, not just the avoidance of taxes, but people who avoided any sort of punishment or precarious situation, slipping away without harm.
This term is quite old. It makes an early appearance in Robert Green’s “Pandosoto” or “Dotastus and Fawnia,” first published in the year 1588. This popular expression is found within:
“These and the like considerations something daunted Pandosto his courage, so that he was content rather to put up a manifest injury with peace, than hunt after revenge, dishonour and loss; determining, since Egistus had escaped scot-free, that Bellaria should pay for all at an unreasonable price.”
- Jason was being chased through the woods by a vicious pack of wolves! But he got away scot-free as he was able to jump into his car and close the door just in the nick of time.
Note: We have the meaning for hundreds of phrases and sayings, and the origin of many too! However, the origins for some are unclear. Often times, what you see listed are plausible theories for how an idiom came to be. But this may not actually be the case for how it happened.
As for the quotes you see, these are typically the oldest citations I could find of the phrase being used. However, keep in mind that just because you see a saying in a newspaper from 1850, that doesn’t mean it originated from that year. The purpose of these old quotes is to give the reader an idea on how old the phrase is.