I understand the phrase "Heads should roll" as "Some people should be punished." Am I on the right track?

Heads should roll: LSU students react to investigation.

Heads should roll: LSU students want school to fire those implicated by investigative report

Source: USAToday

  • Yes, you are on the right track. If a beheading is done with enough vim and vigor, the detached head can roll along the ground for a yard or two. It is refreshing to see young adults recognize the deterrent effect of public executions. Mar 6, 2021 at 3:02

1 Answer 1


You are indeed on the right track—specifically, it is saying that the people responsible should be severely punished (often, as in this case, fired).

The standard form of this idiom is "heads will roll," defined by Merriam Webster as

used to say that people will be severely punished or will lose their jobs because of something that has happened

When the boss finds out about the mistake, heads will roll.

It is an allusion to someone's head literally rolling on the ground after a beheading (one source). In modern English usage, it is much less literal: in most cases where this phrase would be used, an actual beheading would not be expected.

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