cheat the hangman

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In full "cheat the hangman of his fee", since a hangman would not be paid if there was nobody to hang.


cheat the hangman (third-person singular simple present cheats the hangman, present participle cheating the hangman, simple past and past participle cheated the hangman)

  1. To die, especially by suicide, while under sentence of death, or while guilty of a capital crime; also to kill someone else who is in such a state.
    • 1831 Richard Longeville Vowell and William D. Mahoney, Campaigns and Cruises, in Venezuela and New Grenada, and in the Pacific Ocean (Longman) page 69:
      I sincerely hope, for your sake, that Don Beltran may expiate his treason, on the old Spanish gibbet in the Recoveco, as soon as Caraccas is a little more quiet; unless, indeed, the earthquake has already cheated the hangman of his fee, as is most probable.
    • 2007 Bernard Wasserstein Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in our Time (→ISBN):
      Twelve were condemned to death by hanging, among them Göring, who cheated the hangman by swallowing a cyanide tablet in his cell.
  2. To escape punishment for one's crimes; to get away with something
    • 2000 Alice Freifeld Nationalism and the Crowd in Liberal Hungary, 1848-1914 (→ISBN), page 107:
      Rozsa's escapes from the gendarmerie were followed closely by the invisible crowd, and every time he cheated the hangman his legend grew.