Off with his head


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Off with his head'?

Literal meaning. That is, ‘chop off his head’. It is now usually used humorously as a means of mildly reproaching someone.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Off with his head'?

Shakespeare used the phrase many times in his plays and I can find no record of any earlier usage; for example, in Henry VI Part III, 1592:

QUEEN MARGARET:
Off with his head, and set it on York gates;
So York may overlook the town of York.

Lewis Carroll became the best-known user of the phrase when he included it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, (published 1865), The Queen of Hearts shrieks the phrase several times in the story – in fact she doesn’t say a great deal else:

The players all played at once without waiting for turns, quarrelling all the while, and fighting for the hedgehogs; and in a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting’ Off with his head!’ or ‘Off with her head!’ about once in a minute.

Trend of off with his head in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.