Why do we say "Give him enough rope and he will hang himself"?

Well-Known Expressions

Give him enough rope and he will hang himself

Meaning:

If a guilty person is given sufficient freedom to act, he will reveal his guilt.

Background:

John Ray included this expression in his 1670 book of proverbs indicating that it was in regular use in England at that time. The first known use of it in a form recognizable to the modern version is in The History of The Holy War (1639) by English historian Thomas Fuller.

"But Barnabe's day it self hath a night; and this long-lived Order, which in England went over the graves of all others, came at last to its own.

They were suffered to have rope enough, till they had haltered themselves in a Praemunire: For they still continued their obedience to the Pope, contrary to their allegiance, whose usurped authoritie was banished out of the land; and so (though their lives otherwise could not be impeached for any vitiousnesse) they were brought within the compasse of the law."

Book V, Chapter 7

Suffer is used here to mean permit or let--a use of word that will be familiar to those brought up on the King James Bible, e.g. "suffer the little children to come unto me..."

The term praemunire refers to a law introduced in the 14th-century that prohibited the assertion of papal jurisdiction, or any other foreign jurisdiction for that matter, against the supremacy of the English monarch.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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