Fall guy


What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘Fall guy’?

A scapegoat; one who takes on the responsibilities or workload of others. Here ‘fall’ is used with the criminal slang meaning of ‘arrest’ or ‘period in prison’. More recently, it has also come to mean a person who is easily duped or outmanoeuvred.

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘Fall guy’?


Like ‘stand-up guy’ and ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy’, ‘fall guy’ is American.

It can come as little surprise to hear that this is an American phrase. It emerged around the beginning of the 20th century. The earliest citation that I can find is from the Oakland Tribune, December 1904:

“Bard is worked as a ‘fall guy’. When some one comes along with a pull on Perkins and asks for a job that the senior Senator doesn’t want to give him, it is very convenient to pass the burden of refusal on to Bard. … it is easy enough to see how handy is a good ‘fall guy’ for cases of annoying emergency.”

The term ‘fall money’ was also in use in the USA from the late 19th century onward. This was a stash of money put aside for a criminal while in jail. A ‘fall guy’ who had ‘taken the rap’ for a wealthier or more powerful colleague could expect to receive ‘fall money’ on release from prison.

Trend of fall guy in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.