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Why do some people use "how's it hanging?" as greeting? What is "it" referring to?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As with up in your other question, hang has many meanings, not all of them related to an act of suspension. For example, hang out can certainly mean ‘place garments on a washing line to dry’, but it can also mean, among other things,’reside, lodge or live’.

As Alan B suggests, How’s it hanging? may well have the genital origin that Partridge attributes to it. In answer to your comment about its application to women, I would guess that that is rather beside the point, as I suspect it’s an expression almost entirely confined to men.

It is often used in English without any very specific meaning, as in It’s raining. In How’s it hanging? it refers to life in general.

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While there may well be a gender bias here, I don't feel that how's it hanging is unheard of with women. I think that it's gained enough independence as a phrase to be used regardless of its origins. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jan 22 '13 at 9:57
    
"How're they hanging?" –  MikeyB Jan 22 at 15:22

Well, it's referring to the penis obviously.

"Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British," mentions some similar phrases that mean "How's your sex life?" They refer to the male organs and are "low" phrases (he says) of U.S. origin, dating from the 1920s."

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What happens if I ask a girl "how's hanging?" –  Help - I need somebody's help Jan 22 '13 at 9:37
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Well, if she's familiar with the phrase she'll answer you. Either that or she'll demand that you remove your underwear so she can check. –  Alan B Jan 22 '13 at 9:50
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@cartogram: Don't be a boob. :^) (If you click on the link provided by Alan in his answer, there's an answer there to your question.) As a side note, I don't know how "obvious" this reference is. After all, I've heard and used these rather often – hang on, hang tight, hang out, hang loose – but I never really thought about body parts. –  J.R. Jan 22 '13 at 11:13
    
@J.R. Hehehe :^] –  Help - I need somebody's help Jan 22 '13 at 14:24
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Certainly where I grew up (Ireland) and also in the UK almost everyone would assume that the origin of the phrase pertains to the male sexual organ. The accepted reply to the question among my peers was: "Long, loose and full of juice." –  Alan B Jan 22 '13 at 14:46

In 1964 at the very end of the school term in mid June, I was walking down a long hall way alone when from the other end of the hall came a member of the schools ruling clique. This fellow and I had been friends years before in middle school. He had gone on to become successful with in the "in" crowd while I had not and hence faced the constant snubbing this group put out.

Having been friendly a one point in the past, I considered greeting him as we approached one another. Just how might I speak to this golden Adonis I wondered. Probably a simple "how's it going" I figured and began to speak, as he surely would not step below his station and greet me first. Then, half way through my short sentence my mind raced to the thought that it was indeed the last minutes of the school term and a fair well greeting would be more appropriate and I tried to instead say" hang in there." What came out was " how's it hanging"

He walked a step or two, slowed, his face lit to a smile and said " long and heavy man, long and heavy"

This was mid June of 64 at Hayward High School in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The following September at the onset of the new term, the term how's it hanging had become the familiar greeting among the boys of that clique and from this quickly spread within a few weeks around the Bay Area.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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On June 17, 1964, Ken Kesey boarded the bus "Further" with other Merry Pranksters – including Tom Wolfe, who chronicled the trip in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The purpose of the trip was to take Ken to New York for the release of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion. Ken’s novel contains the first use in print of the greeting “how’s it hanging” that Google Book Search can find. While it is certainly possible you coined the phrase independently, you were not the first. It is also likely that the novel is responsible for the popularity of the phrase in San Francisco. –  MετάEd Feb 27 '13 at 0:54

Commonly used as a greeting in HS in rural Massachusetts in the '64 to '6 period, clearly with the sexual implication.

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