‘Laughing your head off.’

Most people may not stop to think about but the origins of this phrase, but it should be clear by now that we’re not exactly most people. And impressively enough the phrase ‘laughing your head off’ actually stems all the way from Jacobite times. When you stop to think about it you may be able to guess the circumstances but we’re here to tell you the whole story.

It was this week in 1747, the 9th of April to be exact, that Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat was executed on Tower Hill in London by John Thrift. Lovat was Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat and by all accounts he was not a particularly nice man, with a violent streak and a cunning mind. During the ’45 Uprising he forced his son to fight with the Jacobites while he himself professed his loyalty to King George II claiming his sons actions were against his wishes.

Following the Jacobites defeat at Culloden his deceit was soon found out by the government and he was forced into hiding in the Highlands. He was eventually arrested on an island in Loch Morar and transported to London where after a trial lasting five days (in which evidence was given against him by fellow Jacobite John Murray of Broughton) he was sentenced to beheading on 19th March 1747.

Shortly before the execution, a scaffold for spectators viewing the beheading had collapsed and left 20 dead, much to his amusement. Apparently Lovat was laughing about the spectacle as the executioners axe fell. So ended the life of Simon Fraser and the phrase ‘laughing your head off’ was born.

For those interested in the life of Simon Fraser there is a book ‘The Last Highlander’ available, of course, from our shop at Culloden Battlefield that covers all his infamous adventures and misdeads.


Interestingly this is not the only phrase to originate from Jacobite times, how about ‘flash in the pan’?

Meaning a short lived success, in the 1700s, the pan of a flintlock musket was a part that held the gunpowder. If all went well, sparks from the flint would ignite the charge, which would then propel the bullet out of the barrel. However, sometimes the gun powder would burn without igniting a main charge. The flash would burn brightly but only briefly, with no lasting effect hence a ‘flash in the pan’.

We hope you enjoy these little titbits of information. As usual like, tweet, follow, share and laugh your head off, though not quite as literally as Simon Fraser. All the best. K & D

18 thoughts on “‘Laughing your head off.’

    • Thanks for the comment. I actually checked this to make sure because you made me doubt myself. Both spellings are correct, ‘tidbit’ is largely used in American and Canadian English whereas ‘titbit’ is used everywhere else.
      Another useful tidbit/titbit in itself!

      Hope you enjoyed the post! 🙂


  1. […] I managed a single tweet on the day, and have re-tweeted about five tweets since last week (all done in a moment of panic yesterday afternoon!).  For example, I retweeted a fascinating little factoid from National Trust Scotland (@N_T_S) about the origins of the phrase “laughing your head off“. […]


  2. Possibly also being a “skin flint”, namely a person so frugal that he would “shave” his flint for re-use instead of purchasing a new one. This practice brings the term “lucky strike” to mind.


  3. What primary article did you use to prove that Lord Lovat was indeed laughing at his time of death? I looked up some newspaper articles and could not find any record.


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