I'd like to ask about the sentence below from Red Headed League by Conan Doyle.

Jump, Archie, jump, and I’ll swing for it!

This was uttered by the villain for the episode named John Clay, when he just got out of the secret hole and then found Holmes charging at him. Can anyone tell me What "and I'll swing for" means in this sentence? Dictionaries say "swing for it" means "to get the punishment" so..

  1. Jump Archie (his accomplice), run for life without caring about me, because I'm going to be done and I can't fix that, just give up on me.

  2. Jump Archie, so that I can jump into the hole too, you've gotta be quick, otherwise I'll get arrested and be hanged.

  3. Jump Archie, don't mind about me, I'll manage to run away from them by myself. You just do your own thing.

Which is the closest of the three above to what Clay meant? Thank you.

  • 2
    It means run for your life, Archie, and I'll stay here, take the blame and absolve you as much as I can, and end up being hanged. Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 16:57
  • @PeterShor A practice abolished in Britain since 1965.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 17:58

2 Answers 2


"Swing for it" is a slang term for execution by hanging:

1.1 informal no object Be executed by hanging.

now he was going to swing for it

Oxford Dictionary

So Clay means that he will do something that will lead him to be executed (presumably, kill Holmes). In other words, your option 1.

If it had been your option 2, then I think it would be "or" not "and".

  • 2
    More commonly, "I'll swing for it" means "I'll pay the expenses".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 17:21
  • 1
    @HotLicks I've never come across that! (Doesn't really fit in this context, though.)
    – user323578
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 17:42
  • 2
    @HotLicks: like user323578 I (BR Eng native speaker 60+) have never heard the expression I'll swing for it meant to express I'll pay the expenses. Are you sure you're not confusing it with I'll spring for it ? Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 16:52
  • 1884 ‘E. Lyall’ We Two III. x. 256 I don't wish any man to swing for me—I have always disapproved of the death-penalty.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 23:19

It seems a strange thing for Clay to say. Did he mean: "Run Archie! I'm caught and I'll be hanged." Or "Get away. I'll fight it out." Although ACD was a boxing fan, I think the phrase literally meant "I'll be hanged."

Still, I don't think that even the theft of gold bullion was a capital punishment offense in the 1880s. Clay probably meant to say, "Get away, Archie! It's up with me. (or I surrender.) I'm caught and I'll accept my punishment."

If there is a dictionary of Victorian underworld cant online, I would like the url. I am a Sherlockian and Clay's use of the phrase has puzzled me. I suppose from his responses to Holmes and the police inspector Jones that he was resigned to his arrest, but perhaps "and" was a misprint for "or". Then he might have meant, "Get out of my way or I'll be arrested."

  • Welcome to EL&U. This would benefit from an authoritative source; as it stands, it reads like a commentary. Please take a moment to tour the site and see the help center. I hope you stick around and enjoy the research.
    – livresque
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 23:41
  • @Marilyn P. As another Baker St. Irregular ( I do try, though) I'm sympathetic but I do believe it was choice #1; "Get going, good luck, I'll take the blame." Good luck with the knee.
    – Elliot
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 0:39

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