Of course I looked it up. (That is, after all, my job!) “Let George do it” is a bit of early 20th century North American slang, used when a person means to let someone else do the work or take responsibility for something: “We have to make a schedule for cleaning out the office refrigerator; otherwise everyone will just let George do it.”
Okay, I thought, that’s clear enough—but why George? Was a historical George left holding the bag at some crucial juncture? No less an authority than H.L. Mencken suggested that the phrase “Let George do it” comes from the 16th century King Louis XII, who liked to hand off boring tasks to his prime minister Cardinal Georges d'Amboise with a breezy “Laissez faire à Georges.” Alas, much as I want this to be true, the phrase doesn’t seem to have ever been widely used in French and it didn’t appear in English until 300 years later.
There is of course St. George, patron saint of England and a whole bunch of other countries. (Also, for what it’s worth, the patron saint of skin disease sufferers and syphilitics.) He is often invoked when there’s serious business to be accomplished, like defeating the French (viz: “Cry ‘God for Harry! England and St. George!’”)
The historical St. George was a 3rd century Roman soldier from Palestine, the child of aristocratic Greek Christian parents, who became an officer in the army of emperor Diocletian. He did well, rose in the ranks, and became a tribune and a member of the Imperial Guard.
But George was ready to step up and do the job no one else wanted to do. So he gave away all his goods to the poor and told the embarrassed Diocletian that, no, he couldn’t recant and Diocletian would just have to execute him. Which he reluctantly did. (This whole persecution endeavor seems to have taken some of the heart out of Diocletian, who stepped down when his term as Emperor ended two years later and retired to the Dalmatian coast to grow vegetables.)
That was the story for about 800 years, until the Crusaders—who revered St. George as a fellow soldier and who were trying to encourage people to step up and take on the hard work of conquering the Holy Land—decided that it might hurt recruitment if “let George do it” meant giving away one’s treasure and agreeing to have one’s head cut off. Maybe George could be shown getting rich and winning glory? Add a dash of manly heroism, maybe a little love interest? And maybe someone else could be on the receiving end of the head-cutting-off part?
So they went Hollywood: Action-Hero George (strapping and handsome, and accompanied by a very fine horse) comes to a city troubled by a dragon, which they have been placating with a steady diet of sheep and maidens.
(In what one might call the Indie version of this story, George gets the princess to put her sash around the dragon’s neck, which tames it so that it follows her like a puppy, and all three of them (four, if you count the horse) return to the city together. The people are terrified, but George offers them a deal: if they convert to Christianity he guarantees the dragon won’t hurt them. Caught between baptism on the one hand, and the toothy monster that has eaten so many of their daughters on the other, the townspeople opt for baptism by the thousands—after which George kills the dragon and cuts it into pieces.
But I digress.)