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It is said that clothes can be hung but men are hanged.

Is this correct, and if so, why?

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well, a man can be ‘hung’ too, but it means something entirely different from being ‘hanged’ – nohat Aug 13 '10 at 20:55
Terry Pratchett does a version of this joke, also making fun of 'drawn' and 'quartered'. – barrycarter Jul 9 '12 at 1:33
up vote 24 down vote accepted

According to the OED, the verb hang came into English from Old Norse hengja with weak inflection (so, taking regular past forms). Eventually, by analogy with other ablaut forms like sing/sang/sung, the verb hang changed into a few different forms (depending on the region of England), e.g. hing/hang, hang/hong, etc. Ultimately, the hing/hang form added hung to complete the sing/sang/sung analogy.

Now here's the important bit, directly from the OED:

The weak inflexion hanged however continued in use (being the only one used in Bible versions from Coverdale to 1611, though Tindale had also houng); but was gradually superseded by hung in the general sense, trans. and intr., leaving hanged only in the special trans. sense (3) ‘put to death by hanging’, owing prob. to the retention of this archaic form by judges in pronouncing capital sentences. The distinction is found already in Shakespeare, and is established in the objurgatory expressions ‘You be hanged!’ ‘I'll be hanged if I do’, and the like.

(At some point, obviously hing fell out of use in Standard English in the present tense form.)

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This old reference in the Dictionary of the English Language (thanks, Google Books!) supports the usage you outline as correct.

Grammar Girl writes that this is because there are 2 different Old English words for the two meanings.

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Note that your first link gives both a transitive and an intransitive sense for the ‘execution’ hang. – nohat Aug 13 '10 at 22:21
+1 right you are. missed that :( – cori Aug 14 '10 at 3:05

protected by tchrist Jul 1 '14 at 0:49

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