13 March 2009

Idioms & Slang: Scot-free

This is an interesting adverb used quite frequently in both British and American English. ‘Scot-free’ means ‘without consequences or penalties’ and ‘without having to pay.’ It is often used in the expressions ‘to get off scot-free’ or ‘to get away scot-free.’ Look at these sentences:

    • No one found out that the student was faking his illness and so he stayed home from school scot-free. (= never caught)
    • The wrong man was accused of the crime, and unfortunately the real criminal got off scot-free. (= never caught)
    • The car was badly damaged in the accident, but the driver escaped scot-free. (= uninjured)
    • When the waiter wasn’t looking, he got away from the restaurant scot-free. (= without paying)

The origin of the word ‘scot’ is found in the Old Norse and Old English languages and is closely related to the French word écot. Originally, a ‘scot’ referred to a medieval municipal tax levied against the inhabitants of a city which was used to help the poor. At first ‘scot-free’ meant not paying one's taxes. Eventually, the term evolved to also mean escaping punishment or harm.

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