What Does It Mean to Have Your "Head on the Block"?

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  • Written By: Nicole Long
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 10 January 2020
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To have your “head on the block” is a figurative expression often used when discussing risky propositions. When used, the phrase takes on the connotation that helping someone or going out of your way is akin to putting your head on the chopping block for them or the cause. The saying is applicable to a wide range of situations, including those surrounding business dealings, relationships, and societal happenings.

Figurative expressions are referred to as idioms. These expressions lend themselves to interpretations beyond the literal meaning or definition. Idioms are used and adopted by various cultures and may or may not translate well when used in other languages, whether written or spoken.

Having your head on the block is a phrase generally used to highlight the added risk or danger that goes along with helping someone in a particularly challenging situation. In the early days, back when the guillotine represented a possible punishment, the phrase had a literal translation. While the phrase is not translated in the literal sense now, the past provides a glimpse into the dangers associated with sticking one's neck or head out for others.

In the workplace, examples of applicable uses of the phrase can be plentiful. For instance, someone may put his head on the block when sticking up for an unpopular coworker, or speaking out against commonly accepted practices and procedures. In this instance, putting one's head on the block can refer to the possibility of being disciplined or terminated from the job.


The phrase can also be used to describe situations that develop during the course of any type of relationship. For instance, a personal friendship could be ruined by putting one's head on the block for another friend, or choosing one relationship over another. Those who want to make a stand in such a way should understand that some relationships could end altogether by making such a stand for one person or group of people.

Taking a look at society can provide examples of this idiom on a much larger scale. Those who stick their heads out for others may do so on a small, grassroots level or through larger protests and platforms. In this instance, individuals and the collective group both push for change at the possible expense of current or future financial success and at being seen as outcasts. On the other hand, change often only occurs when some take the risks associated with standing up for their beliefs and pushing for positive changes in the world.



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