pay (one's) debt

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pay (one's) debt

1. To repay some or all of the money one owes to someone else. A noun or pronoun can be used between "(one's) and "debt" to specify the type of debt one has accrued. I only won about $5,000 in the lottery, but it was enough to pay my credit card debt. I'm gonna be paying my student loan debt for nearly 20 years.
2. To serve the sentence given to one upon conviction of a crime. Often followed by "to society." In the eyes of the law, he has paid his debt to society, so he shouldn't be facing any further punishment for his past crimes. I spent nearly 15 years in prison—I paid my debt!
See also: debt, pay

pay one's debt (to society)

Cliché to serve a sentence for a crime, usually in prison. The judge said that Mr. Simpson had to pay his debt to society. Mr. Brown paid his debt in state prison.
See also: debt, pay
References in classic literature ?
One, the lower class, vulgar, stupid, and, above all, ridiculous people, who believe that one husband ought to live with the one wife whom he has lawfully married; that a girl should be innocent, a woman modest, and a man manly, self-controlled, and strong; that one ought to bring up one's children, earn one's bread, and pay one's debts; and various similar absurdities.
Now, monsieur, the money is not mine, and I shall not keep it; I will not send it in this note because it might be lost--besides, it is heavy; but I will restore it to you the first time I see you, and you must make no difficulties about taking it; because, in the first place, I am sure, monsieur, you can understand that one likes to pay one's debts; that it is satisfactory to owe no man anything; and, in the second place, I can now very well afford to be honest, as I am provided with a situation.
when one refuses to pay one's debts, that's recognizing them."
Another, more generally used definition is the inability to pay one's debts, currently or when due.
TO pay one's debts or to not pay one's debts, that is the question the British people face over the next five to 10 years.
Failure to pay one's debts was punishable by imprisonment in all the colonies and states, which had been the practice in England for three hundred years.
The proposal seeks to establish a link between bankruptcy and the ability to pay one's debts, yet allows debtors who suffer a life crisis to obtain the benefits of bankruptcy protection, according to a statement by Congressman Gekas.