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The phrase “on your own head be it” is common-ish and has the well-attested meaning of roughly “I think this is a really terrible idea but you’re the one who will suffer the consequences so do what you like.”

But I cannot find any information as to the phrase’s origins. I’d kind of suspected Shakespeare or maybe the King James Bible, but neither seems to include it that I could find. Various online dictionaries list the phrase, but offer no origin. So I’m wondering if anyone here knows, or can dig it up.

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The earliest quote in the OED for this expression is from 1743:

When they promise it [sc. protection], they put their hands up to their turbants, as much as to say, Be it on their heads.
A description of the East, and some other countries

However, I think I found an earlier example from 1711:

If you dissemble, be it on your head
The maids tragedy


The expression "on your head", however, is much older than the longer expression (and apparently comes from the Latin expression in caput eius meaning "onto his/her head"). Since Old English, it was used in the sense "Of a misfortune, curse, blessing, etc.: directed towards a person; so as to affect a person; on a person." (OED):

Gehweorfe his sar on his heafod [L. in caput eius], and on his brægn astige his unriht.
King Alfred's Psalms (Psalm 7:16)

In the sense "So as to be the responsibility of a person; weighing on a person", the earliest attestation the OED has is from a1425:

The blood of hym schal be on his heed [a1382 E.V. into his hed, L. in caput eius], that goith out at the dore of thin hows.
John Wycliffe Bible

  • Nice! It would be nice to get a little bit more details about those works (say, author) into the answer itself, though, rather than relying on external sites. – KRyan Apr 18 '18 at 19:38
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It appears it is from the Bible:

On your own head be it

Source: This phrase has its origins in Psalm 7:16 and Acts 18:6 of the King James Version of the Bible.

Meaning: the ultimate responsibility is yours

and according to the AHD it dates back to the 14th century:

On one's head:

Also, on one's own head . As one's responsibility or fault, as in If the police catch you speeding it's on your own head . This idiom, dating from the 1300s, conjures up the image of blame or guilt falling on someone's head.

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Ezekiel 33 verses 1-4 but especially verse 4 (KJV)... Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. The preceding verses talk about a watchman being appointed by the people to watch for the approach of the enemy. he was to blow the trumpet to warn the people if the enemy was approaching - but verse 4 says they (the people) bear the (fatal)consequences alone if they fail to heed the warning. Yes psalm 7:16 has been mentioned and also Acts 18:6 but I think Ezekiel 33:4 is the best example of the phrase 'on your own head be it'.

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