Scot-Free —Meaning and Origin


If someone gets away scot-free, that means they got away freely from punishment or harm.

Example: Last night, a house in our neighborhood caught on fire. We were worried about the people living there because we didn’t know if they survived. However, later we were informed that everyone got away scot-free.

(In other words, the people in the burning house escaped without harm.)

1. Let off the hook

Man Getting Away Scot-Free

Origin Of ‘Scott-Free’

The origin of the phrase ‘scot-free’ is believed to be from somewhere in the 12th century. You might ask: ‘What is a scot?’ 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. 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; they get away freely, without harm.

So how old is this term? 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 this work:

“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.”

So this saying is at least 430 years old.

Example Sentences

  • Jason got into a car accident on his way to the store. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the crash; everyone involved got away scot-free.
  • One of my brothers broke a glass jar in the kitchen; my parents let him go scot-free since it was an accident.

Similar Example:

  • I arrived late to work again but my employer let me off the hook because he knows I’ve had a tough week.

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