Punish severely, as in Mom'll draw and quarter me if even one scratch appears on her new car. This expression alludes to two brutal forms of execution practiced in the past. In one the victim was drawn by a horse to a gallows, hanged, and then cut into four pieces and scattered; in the other the victim was hanged, disemboweled while still alive (drawn), and then beheaded and dismembered. In both the victim was said to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Today the term is usually used hyperbolically.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.