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Old score

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 15, 2007

In Reply to: Old score posted by Leslie on May 14, 2007

: Does any one know the origin of the following phrase:
: "an old score to settle."?

Old scores are old accounts, a very old usage presumably based on keeping tally of, e.g., drinks in an alehouse by marks, possibly made originally by scoring a board with a notch, sometimes kept with a chalk, but meaning, one way or another, an account or record of goods owed for. The OED gives examples from the early 15th century onward. I'll quote only two of them: "1593 SHAKES. 2 Hen. VI, IV. ii. 80 There shall bee no mony, all shall eate and drinke on my score. 1614 RAVENSCROFT in Festive Songs (Percy Soc.) 40 When all is gone we have no more, Then let us set it on the score, Or chalke it up behinde the dore."

Hence, settling an old score is paying up or closing an old account; or figuratively fulfilling an obligation, or, as the OED has it, "to revenge an injury, to 'be even with' some one."

From the examples given by OED it appears that the latter meaning came into use in the late years of the 19th century. It is still current.