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Hanged Versus Hung

Curtains are hung and people are hanged.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
December 31, 2006
Episode #034

hanged

I know I promised that the next episode would be a follow-up to my apostrophe episode, but Zach wrote in with a grammar emergency tied to the execution of Saddam Hussein. I'm sure we all realize there are more important aspects to this story than reporters fouling up their language, but still, in Grammar Girl Land, we like to work these things out. So today's topic is hung versus hanged.

Zach said he was taught that curtains are hung and people are hanged, and he is correct. It's not quite that cut-and-dried*—some of my reference books say hung isn't wrong, just less customary, when referring to past executions, and the Random House Unabridged Dictionary says that hung is becoming more common—but the majority of my books agree that the standard English word is hanged when you are talking about killing people by dangling them from a rope. Therefore, it's correct to say that Saddam Hussein was hanged in Baghdad on Saturday, December 30, 2006.

[[AdMiddle]It seemed a little curious to me that there would be two past-tense forms of the word hang that differ depending on their meaning, so I did a little research and found out that in Old English there were two different words for hang (hon and hangen), and the entanglement of these words (plus an Old Norse word hengjan) is responsible for there being two past-tense forms of the word hang today (1).

Next time, we'll get back to our discussion of apostrophes.

References

1. Burchfield, R. W., ed. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 349.

* This is an idiom that refers to the practice of cutting wood and letting it dry out thoroughly before using it in a fire, according to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. (Web reference)

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