Idiom: Neck or nothing

Definition of neck or nothing: with complete abandon and recklessness, at all risks, risking everything

An attempt at success that risks losing or ruining everything. This contract is neck or nothing—we’ve put so much time and money into this deal that we’ll go bankrupt if it doesn’t go through.

An illustration: a Neck or Nothing Man!

print; satirical print | British Museum

Print made by: George Cruikshank – Published by: Thomas Tegg

This is a George Cruikshank cartoon called “A Radical Reformer, i.e. A Neck or Nothing Man! Dedicated to the Heads of the Nation”. It was published by Thomas Tegg of Cheapside on 17 September 1819.

Description (source: The British Museum)

The Guillotine monster

The ‘Heads of the Nation’ flee in terror from a huge grotesque monster (left) whose body is a guillotine from which flames stream after the fugitives.

The creature wears a bonnet rouge, and its jaws, with huge teeth and dripping blood, extend across the upper edge of the guillotine, whose curved blade forms a vast chin.

The arms project from just below the jaws, a dagger in the right hand; blood drips from the dagger and the crisped talons of the left hand.

Grotesque bowed legs in ragged breeches splay from below the guillotine, centered by the round hole for the victim’s neck from which blood gushes, and through which peers a grinning skull.

From the vast mouth issue the words: “I’m a coming! I’m a coming! I shall have you, though I’m at your heels now I’ll be at your Head’s presently, “come all to me that are troubled with money & I warrant I’ll make you easy!!” Behind and on the extreme left, supported on clouds, daggers march forward, followed by tiny guillotine-Reformers who chant: “and a Hunting we vill go”.

The fugitives

The most prominent fugitive is Lord Castlereagh, who looks over his shoulder, saying, “Och! by the powers! & I don’t like the looks of him atall! atall!” He has dropped a large green bag inscribed ‘Castle[reag]h’s Bag’, from which gold coins are pouring.

Lord Liverpool falls face downwards across a similar bag: ‘Liverpool’s Bag’.

On the extreme right, his face cut off by the margin is the Prince Regent running fast despite a gouty leg; his wig flies off, and he exclaims: “Oh! My Wig’s off!!” Eldon, the Lord Chancellor, close behind, his (Chancellor’s) wig also flying away, answers: “Never mind, so long as your head’s on!”

At the Regent’s feet lies a crown, near two bags, ‘100000 G P R his Bag’ and ‘Old Bag’s Bag’.

Other figures are indicated; behind, a bishop with a grossly bloated nose intended for the Archbishop of Canterbury (cf. No. 13276) flees in wild terror, losing their wig and mitre.

Plate numbered 368. 1819 – Hand-coloured etching