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In American English, I recognize the expression "nothing to get hung up about" as an idiom meaning, "nothing to worry about." Based on some googling, it seems like in British English the phrase "nothing to get hung about" is an expression too, which makes sense because of the Beatles lyric in "Strawberry Fields Forever" (released 1967):

Let me take you down

'Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields

Nothing is real

And nothing to get hung about

Strawberry Fields forever

So I have a two-part question. Was nothing to get hung about an expression in BrE prior to John Lennon's use in the song?

Is there any relation to the AmE expression nothing to get hung up about?

Update: Since the expressions do seem to have appeared around the time as the song according to Ngram, I'd be especially interested if anyone can find sources that offer evidence for or against a Beatles connection. Is the popularity of the phrases "to get hung up about" / "to get hung up on" / "to get hung about" a result of Lennon's lyric, or an unrelated evolution of the term "hangup," as suggested by Peter Shor in the comments?

  • Presumably, both phrases originated from the word "hangup", which the OED attests in 1959 ("saves cool cat hangup of remembering names.") Whether the Beatles were the first to verb hangup in this manner is a great question. – Peter Shor Apr 28 '17 at 12:18
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    Here's a '66 example from Illinois "has a hangup about sex" - which seems a little closer to the Beatle's sense than some of the other examples. books.google.com/books/… .From Illinois Political, Incorporated, 1966 – Phil Sweet Apr 29 '17 at 1:29
  • And another from '67 of interest. books.google.com/books/…. From Southern Education Reporting Service, 1967 - African Americans – Phil Sweet Apr 29 '17 at 1:56
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    The more common phrasing in AmE is get hung up on, and that expression has been around for a LONG time meaning something like get stuck or get delayed. I find a lot of examples of it starting to be used more figuratively in the early to mid-sixties, e.g. It seems to me that we've gotten hung up on this matter of revelation versus observation. in 1961. – 1006a Apr 29 '17 at 17:03
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    Logic to support my point of view: if the phrase had caught on as a result of the recording, then the popular phrase would have been "to get hung on" instead of "to get hung up on" something. – aparente001 May 1 '17 at 5:10
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+100

Lennon deliberately chose to obfuscate the meaning of his signature song, even the title Strawberry Fields Forever was, in its day, controversial and ambiguous. Lennon simply took the name from a Salvation Army children's home in Liverpool called Strawberry Field (singular) which existed until 2005. The site has now been closed since 20011.

According to Wikipedia, Lennon's iconic lyric was inspired by a childhood memory

For the refrain, [...]: the words "nothing to get hung about" were inspired by Aunt Mimi's strict order not to play in the grounds of Strawberry Field, to which Lennon replied, "They can't hang you for it."

In other words, the young John Lennon knew full well he couldn't be arrested or given the death penalty for playing on the premises. The death penalty in the UK was suspended in 1965, one year after the last two men had been hanged in Britain, and five years after The Beatles had already been formed. The verb hang, when it refers to being killed by means of a rope tied to one's neck, is regular but it is not uncommon for native speakers (and in some dialects, I suppose) to use the irregular past tense hung in speech and in writing.

In fact, in verse two an even more obscure lyric, whose meaning never really caught on, is the following.

No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low

Does the tree refer back to hanging, or as John Lennon asserted in 1980 to his feelings of alienation, and “Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius — ‘I mean it must be high or low,’ ”

The origin of ‘get hung about’

As the OP and Xann have both stated, get hung about was not recorded in print before 1967.

However, the noun hang-up, also spelled hangup, meaning: a preoccupation, fixation, or psychological block; complex is first attested 1959, from notion of being suspended in one place. (Etymonline).

Cambridge Dictionaries lists hung up, and be hung up on sth: to be extremely interested in or worried by a particular subject and spend an unreasonably large amount of time thinking about it; Collins also has hung up, but mentions also hang about: to waste time; loiter, and the American expression, not care a hang about. Meanwhile, Oxford Dictionaries list the following entries under hang (US): not care (or give) a hang, and hang around. In the standard English dictionary, the second and third meanings of hung up about/on are supplied: Emotionally confused or disturbed, and Obsessed with or worried about

‘I don't get too hung up about business, I don't take it that seriously.’

Unfortunately, the online dictionary fails to mention its earliest appearance in print, so turn we must to Etymonline, which states

Hung-up is from 1878 as "delayed;" by 1961 as "obsessed."

The earliest instance of ‘to get hung about’ that I found on Google Books is dated 1969 [source], which was clearly inspired by the Beatles lyric

Here Wolfe discovers something to believe in. Something that is real, something to get hung about . . . .

References

Dictionary.com: hang-up
The Beatles Bible.com: Strawberry Fields Forever
Wikipedia: Strawberry Field (the orphanage)

1

Ngram shows no usages before 1967:

From Crawdaddy (1967):

  • Nothing to get hung about. "The Queen's the Queen," Harrison said. "The idea that you wake up in the morning and it happens you're Queen, it's amazing but you could all be Queens if you imagined it. " A lot of people in Britain imagine that .

From Unicorn (1967):

  • It would be very difficult to review "Yellow Submarine" as a movie. As a cartoon, however, it is superb. As a diversion, it rates viewing again and again. "Nothing is real, Nothing to get hung about" — but quite a bit to enjoy.

It could be the contraction of "to be hung up on/about" as the meaning is close.

From The Phrase Finder:

The problem with the phrase "hung up on" is that' it can mean both obsessed, mildly obsessed, preoccupied or worried about. And feeling guilty in a way that inhibits action.

It's a vague term, meant to be heard in context to make sense of it. Careful writers should avoid it, using more precise language.

Usage examples:

  • Hang up! - Stop. 1900. From "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

  • Hung up - bewildered. The Jive Generation - 1940s

  • Hang - relax. Mainstream 1950s.
  • Hang up -- fixed pattern of behavior. The Beat Culture 1950s.
  • Hang up -- inhibition. Hippie Counterculture. or from "hang" (1950s: to relax).

  • From "Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang" by Tom Dalzell (Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Md., 1996).

  • Also, the romantic sense : "I'm hung up over you." Meaning he or she can't get over an infatuation.

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Both phrases enter AmE soon after the song; a few years later "to get hung up about" enters BrE. There's no evidence I've found on the Internet or in Google Ngrams that either BrE or AmE had either of these expressions before the Beatles. The song was released in 1967.

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    "Nothing to get hung up about" goes back to the Stone Ages (or at least the "Beats" of the 40s and 50s). It was well-established when the Beatles were beating pots and pans in their mums' kitchens. – Hot Licks Apr 28 '17 at 11:13
  • @Hot Licks: the first citation for hangup in the OED is 1959, which is definitely pre-Beatles. I can't find anything earlier using Google Books (but hangup is such a common phrase with other meanings that I could easily have missed some). – Peter Shor Apr 28 '17 at 12:24
  • Do note that few "durable" publications were tracking the speech patterns of the beats and the hippies who popularized these phrases. Only when such a phrase made it into a popular song or some such would it be noted by the larger publication industry. – Hot Licks May 9 '17 at 11:28
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Is there any relation to the AmE expression nothing to get hung up about?

"hung up" in AmE is a much broader expression, and much older. In general, it means "snagged" or "jammed" in the sense of some sort of mechanical equipment or apparatus that cannot move freely as it should.

The more abstract notion is that a person's mind can get "hung up" on an idea or thought, preventing the consideration of other ideas. The term became widespread in the 1960s with the hippies — their parents were said to have "hangups" over things like long hair and bare feet.

I really don't see any connection at all with the "nothing to get hung about" phrase, which is about the concept of excessive punishment for a minor offense.

I'll try to dig up some citations in a bit ...

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Lennon's aunt Mimi used to caution him, as a child, not to sneak into Strawberry Field, a neighboring charity orphanage. Once, in exasperation, he replied, "They couldn't actually hang me for it!" That is the origin.

  • Can you cite a reference that supports this theory? – Dave Tweed May 9 '17 at 11:35

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