When Men are Hung: a Pet Peeve

7 March 2020

I get so irritated when people are hung. When they’re hung in books and on TV, when news reporters talk about people who has been hung. Naturally, I find hanging people in general to be abhorrent, but the ways in which it’s talked about irritates me too. It’s one of my (many, many) pet peeves.

It’s odd, the things we get hung-up on, isn’t it? (Pun entirely intended).

The thing is, I remember extremely clearly being told, as a child by a teacher:

“Men are not hung. Meat is hung. Man are hanged.”

I don’t know why it stuck with me, but it did (along with the fact that Queen Victoria died in 1901). Perhaps it was all the gruesome connotations that came along with it. Still, ever since said teacher told me this, I’ve had this pet peeve about people who are ‘hung’.

I have the urge to cry was he a picture? when people talk about those who were ‘hung’, for of course, like meat, pictures are hung.

“Why, though?” I hear you ask.

It all comes down to those pesky past particles, you see. The verb ‘to hang’, according to the OED, has no less than six definitions (along with a bunch of sub-definitions within those, and a couple of nouns, too).

Of those six, the past particle of all but one is ‘hung’—so yeah, for the most part, people are right to say ‘hung,’ when they are talking about something that has been suspended, for example. The one time you can’t say it is when you are talking about people who were killed from hanging. They were hanged. Poor sods.

Apparently, the OED says, the reason for it is all history and—like all the best (and worst) things—it’s complex. The word ‘hanged’ came about before ‘hung’ was ever spoken, around the 16th century. They suggest, reasonably fairly, that the reason ‘hanged’ remained as the past particle of a hanging man was because legal language tends to hang on to archaic language for longer (and yes, the pun was once again intended).

Whatever the reason, I’m pretty sure that is one of those random facts that is going to stick with me until the day I die—which, hopefully, will not be as a result of being hanged!