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Meaning of “To Go Scot-Free” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

To Go Scot-Free

“Scotfre and gauelfre, on schire and on hundrede.”

—Charter of 1066, in Kemble : Cod. Diblom. IV, 

When we say that a person has “gone scot-free,” we usually mean that he or she has escaped the payment of any fine or debt or, metaphorically, any form of punishment—just or unjust.

There is a common idea that this phrase originates in the free, roving life of those folk who once resided in the western part of Scotland which, because of its barren and rugged surface, afforded little or no opportunity for cultivation and, therefore, for settlement. Brewer quotes the “Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian” in support of this opinion, the author stating that the very meaning of “Scot” has its basis in this rambling propensity of a hardy people: from Scuite=a wanderer.

There is plausibility in this explanation, though the more tenable idea seems to be that the phrase is rooted in a form of tax which, in law, is known as “Scot and Lot,” meaning a parish payment by lot or ability. That form of ecclesiastical tax known in the Middle Ages as “Peter’s Pence” was also called “Rome-scot”; and our common words “allot” and “lot” indicate an allowance, payment, share, or portion. It is possible that confusion has arisen in the writing of the word; for, some centuries ago, it was common to use the word “shot” rather than “scot” for a payment. Bishop Hall, a contemporary of Shakespeare, in his Satires says:

Many fair yonker with a feathered crest,

Chooses much rather be his shot-free guest,

To fare so freely with so little cost.

Shakespeare himself (I Henry IV, v. iii) makes Falstaff say: “Though I could ‘scape shot-free at London, I fear the shot here; here’s no scoring but upon the pate.” The “scoring” evidently refers to a tavern-score or a temporary debt for refreshments at a tavern. In both cases “shot-free” evidently means payment-free.


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