I heard the idiom "put the hurt on" a lot growing up and I have a rough feeling of what it means but I'm not quite sure how to boil down the meaning to something I can explain to someone else.

A good example of the idiom being used in context is: https://youtu.be/NMV5wwzLVSY?t=62

My rough understanding is that it means something along the lines of "did someone a disservice but because they deserved it" but maybe someone knows more about the etymology of the phrase and can help clarify it.

  • My understanding of the idiom (which I'd agree is not extensive) does not include the implication that the "hurt" is "deserved". Rather it's a form of coercion or retaliation. And the original implication of the term (as implied in gangster movies, at least) was that the "hurt" would be literal -- a beating perhaps. (Though it has of course come to be used in a figurative sense.) When you consider that it originally meant to physically abuse, the etymology should be obvious.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 22, 2015 at 8:03

2 Answers 2


According to M-W it is an AmE informal expression

Put the/a hurt on:

  • to injure or damage (someone or something):
    • If we adopt a more aggressive strategy, we can really put the hurt on our competitors.
    • They really put a hurt on him. [=hurt/injured him very badly]

The Concise New Partridge of Slang and Unconventional English says it is also a UK saying which means:

  • inflict pain on

According to Ngram it appears to be mainly an AmE expression which has been used from the mid 60's.

There are a few example usages dated earlier, before it became a set phrase:

  • Mabel, go in the cellar and get me a club so I can put a hurt on her head and make it bleed." from "The Broom Behind the Door" 1949.

  • Taid said, " Never put a hurt on a child," and he looked at me more gravely than he ever had before. And Nain said, " This is the way I brought up Emyr." from "Three Bear Witness". 1952


"Put the hurt on someone" means to hurt them. Your link takes us to a performance of the song "Santa Put the Hurt on You" by Benny Grunch. There's no date given for the song, but Benny and his group was an act from the 1990s. I can give an earlier (and musical cite) from 1962 -- "She Put the Hurt on Me" by Prince LaLa. (The copyright is the year before.)

There's a template here that makes the phrase understandable. "Putting" a noun can mean the same thing as the verb related to that noun.

"Put the question to" means to question.
"Put hands on" means to handle or manhandle.
"Put the onus on" means to burden

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