Recently, I watched a historical drama set in the 18th century in England, and brigands, most notably the main character, often uses the phrase Stand and Deliver when conducting a highway robbery.

Since the phrase was used multiple times, I assumed it was idiomatic. Given the context, the meaning of the phrase is quite clear

Halt! I'm performing a robbery.

But upon thinking about it, it's possible that the phrase is also literal, but an abbreviated version of another phrase, such as

stand down and deliver the goods.

But the phrase is also used in situations where it was clear that it was a kidnapping and not a robbery by all parties, so this particular abbreviation is hard to support. Where then does this phrase come from? Is it an idiom or is it literal?

  • 1
    What research have you done?
    – BillJ
    Commented May 29 at 14:13

1 Answer 1


The phrase is listed in dictionaries as an idiom. Cambridge defines it as meaning:

said in the past by highwaymen when they stopped a carriage (= a vehicle pulled by horses) on a road to demand objects of value from the travellers.

PhraseFinder explains that

The word ‘stand’ has been used to mean ‘come to a halt’ since the 16th century. Shakespeare used it in Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1591:

Stand sir, and throw us that you have about’ye.”

The expression ‘stand and deliver’ must have been established in the language by 1714, as Alexander Smith included it in his reference work The History of the Lives of the Most Noted Highwaymen:

He order’d him to Stand and Deliver.

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913, lists an early use of the term ‘stand and deliver’ in the case of Robert Jackson, tried for Highway Robbery on 7th September 1720. Jackson was indicted for “Assaulting John Andrews on the High Way, putting him in Fear, and taking from him a Silver Watch value £4 10s“. A witness testified:

The Prisoner clapt a Pistol to a Child’s Head and said [to Andrews], G – d D – n you, stand and deliver your Money and Watch; and that he saw the Prisoner clap a Pistol to Andrews’s Breast, and take his Watch; that he is sure the Prisoner is the same Person.

In the 1750s, the same site states, the meaning of the idiom was extended to mean

‘your money or your life’.

So, by extension, it could also mean deliver a person in kidnappings.

  • Yes, it's the classic phrase used by highwaymen - "Halt and deliver (your valuables to me)". In the case of a kidnapping, I suppose it could mean "Deliver up the person I want". Commented May 29 at 14:05

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