I understand the phrase "settle your hash" means to subdue someone through the use of threats or violence. For example, a heated argument between two individuals where insults were being lobbed to and fro might lead one to exclaim:

If you keep disparaging my mother like that I am going to settle your hash.

What is the origin of this idiom?

4 Answers 4


an early occurrence is from Olympic Games by Isaac Cruikshank:

  1. In settle (someone’s) hash, to subdue, silence, defeat; kill: s. >, in C.20, coll. An early occurrence is in Isaac Cruikshank, Olympic Games, 16 June 1803 (thanks to Mrs M.D.George).

it's also in Americanisms: The English of the New World (1872) by M. (Maximilian) Schele de Vere - here's an image:

settle one's hash in Americanisms

from hash:

1657, "to hack, chop," from Fr. hacher, from O.Fr. hache "axe." The noun "stew" is first recorded 1662, from the verb.

My educated guess is that it's related to the the origins of the phrase "bury the hatchet", relevant quotes being:

"Bury the hatchet" is an Indianism (a phrase borrowed from Native American speech). The term comes from an Iroquois ceremony in which war axes or other weapons were literally buried in the ground as a symbol of newly made peace. The other two languages spoken by Europeans in close contact with the Iroquois in and around what is now New York state also use the phrase: enterrer la hache de guerre and de strijdbijl begraven. (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which is French and which is Dutch.)


The first mention of the practice in English is to an actual hatchet-burying ceremony. Years before he gained notoriety for presiding over the Salem witch trials, Samuel Sewall wrote in 1680, "I writt to you in one [letter] of the Mischief the Mohawks did; which occasioned Major Pynchon's goeing to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem the[y] came to an agreemt and buried two Axes in the Ground; one for English another for themselves; which ceremony to them is more significant & binding than all Articles of Peace[,] the hatchet being a principal weapon with them."

So between MikeVaughan's answer that it's related to the French word for "axe" & the practice of "burying the hatchets", I'm inferring that "settle someone's hash" came from these ideas.

  • 2
    That's a nice bit of diligent research, but the problem is that I can't see how the definition of hash you've given here fits at all with the idiom the OP's offered. You mostly offered a verb whereas he's looking for a noun, and the hash that's being offered certainly isn't a stew either.
    – Uticensis
    May 3, 2011 at 0:54
  • @Billare I noticed that too. But still, nice research. I found the answer below after about 10 minutes of searching. May 3, 2011 at 0:56
  • @Billare it's related to MikeVaughan's answer - don't want to elaborate much - the "brevity police" might be on the prowl! ;) May 3, 2011 at 0:56
  • @Callithumpian thanks for the edit - I had access to that pix but I think it's being "clipped" by the system ... May 3, 2011 at 1:43
  • @pageman: No problem. Check out the reference I just found. Could there be any Scottish connection? May 3, 2011 at 2:25

A ‘hash’ was a mess (from French ‘hachée’) and by ‘settling’ it, one sorted it out. It is also possible to make a hash (or mess) of something.

From: Idiom Dictionary

  • The OED says " to reduce to order; to silence, subdue; to make an end of, ‘do for’".
    – Colin Fine
    May 3, 2011 at 11:33

I found this reference from a 1795 (check) Scottish farce, The Scottish Volunteers—the subduing here being done by poison:

enter image description here

  • Aw, but that says "foon fettle his hafh", so it doesn't count! <g>
    – MT_Head
    Jun 24, 2012 at 23:12

A variant spelling can be found earlier than 1795, in The Politician Out-Witted, a play written by Samuel Low in 1788:

Humphry. Well, if the case lies there, that settles the harsh, d' ye see; but, for my part, I think how you look old enough and ugly enough to be his great-grandfather, as the old saying is.

Cited by 1977's Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases by Bartlett Jere Whitin for this phrase, which, along with other folklorists, praise the Humphrey character in the play as a good source of proverbs spoken:

An anonymous play, The Politician Out-Witted (1788), contains a simple fellow named Humphrey who uses many proverbs and who himself attaches “as the old saying is” to things unproverbial as well as proverbial.

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