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I often hear the words hang on and hold on, especially on TV. People use them when they want someone to wait for something. What's the difference between them?

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In those specific idioms, "hang on" and "hold on" are virtually synonymous. There is no difference to speak of. – MετάEd Jan 4 '13 at 4:56
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What @MετάEd said. I use both freely in the "[please] wait [a short time]" sense, but in the sense of "Stop what you're doing!" (or "just about to do") I probably use "Hang about!" more often than either. – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '13 at 5:18
    
@MετάEd. Isn't hang on rather more brusque? – Barrie England Jan 4 '13 at 7:48
    
Now hold on just a minute, Barrie. I think the brusqueness of one word or the other is determined by the larger context and overall tone as much as anything. – MετάEd Jan 4 '13 at 7:55
    
People about to being hanged tend to feel poorly about the former. – Coyote Jan 4 '13 at 8:09

"Hang on" is for a while/minute.

"Hold on" is for a long time.

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Hello, mianris gion. On this site, answers are expected to include evidence in support of the conclusions they assert. Please add some such support to your answer, to make it more useful to the person who asked the question and to other readers. – Sven Yargs Jan 15 at 4:24
    
Could you also capitalize and punctuate correctly, please? – Brian Hooper Jan 15 at 8:32
    
These are certainly connotations, but not obligatory. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 15 at 11:01

Sometimes they are synonymous. Sometimes hold on is used when you are questioning a statement by someone, as in, "Hold on, are you telling me the project will be late again?!?" It's also possible that hang on is less formal than hold on, but that distinction may be regional and/or fading over time.

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If you're saying to wait a minute, either 'hold on' or 'hang on' will do.

But if you're talking about literally grasping something with your hands, you usually would say 'hold' and not 'hang.' For instance, you would say, "Please hold on to my plate for me." You wouldn't say, "Hang on my plate for me."

'Hang on' carries the connotation of holding onto something you're falling off of, like when you hang on to the edge of the cliff. 'Hold on' carries more of a connotation of lifting or grasping something.

But as I said, most people use them interchangeably.

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Both are metaphors... in the context about waiting a short time.

Hanging on the line, like a fish, or a person at the end of a phone line. Keeping some one hanging so you can think/rethink/restate your position. Hang on a tick while I look up the number - I'm not going anywhere. And I keep muttering, okay P, Pa, Potter, Powers - got it, 5367 4122.

Holding, keeping the same position, not going away - even though I am for a moment. Hold on a tick while I get him - I'm going to be gone for a minute maybe.

So I feel hold is likely to mean a more significant pause or interruption (either longer or more removed), rather than just a filler for thinking or looking something up.

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"Hang on" and "Hold on". I often hear these words, especially on TV. People use them when they want someone to wait for something.

In the provided context, they are very similar.

Hang on:

informal wait for a short time: hang on a minute—do you think I might have left anything out? *(on the telephone) remain connected until one is able to talk to a particular person.*

Hold on can mean the same in general conversation:

[often in imperative] wait; stop:
hold on a minute, I’ll be right back!

While the end result is the same, when used as part of telephonic conversations, hold on often refers more to being placed on hold:

waiting to be connected while making a telephone call:
‘I’ll just see if he’s free,’ Rachel said, and put me on hold

As the ODO page will confirm, there are a number of other idiomatic uses of hold (hold your horses, hold your fire, hold it, etc.) which share similar connotations of stop or wait.

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