Let's say that for example, people thought Chris was a bad person and he killed many people. A group of people vote for Chris to be lynched. Race has absolutely nothing to do with this; it's because of Chris's actions. This is the context for the use in question of the word "lynch".

My friend says the term "lynch" is such a racially-loaded term that we should use the word "hanging" instead. He says that the word "lynch" carries specific connotations of racist violence.

Please English experts tell me your insight on this! Is it actually racist or is he going overboard?

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    It is possible to be hung without being lynched. It is possible to be lynched without being hung. You can't blindly replace lynch with hang, they're not synonymous. And the word is pejorative but not racist.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 30, 2017 at 21:08
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    "lynch" means to execute without a trial. The word has racial connotations because there is a history in the U.S. of black people being lynched by racist groups like the KKK. Apr 30, 2017 at 21:12
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    The word is not racist, but people who lynch other people could be. But to lynch someone does necessarily mean to hang them. Apr 30, 2017 at 21:13
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    If 'racist' means 'carrying connotations of racist violence', it only takes one person to pick up on this nuance to make the term 'racist'. Connotations are subjective. The snag is that there's probably a person somewhere who thinks that 'blackmail' or 'Blackpool' carry racist overtones, and the language becomes in danger of being hijacked by over-sensitive minorities. Apr 30, 2017 at 23:34
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    @DanBron Greetings. I fear a lynch mob might well chase me off this site if I didn't point out that pictures are "hung", but never humans, who are merely hanged. "Hung" with regard to the male of the species has an entirely different meaning quite unconnected to being strung up or placed over the trapdoor leading to the "drop". Bit of gallows humor, what? May 1, 2017 at 4:35

4 Answers 4


Lynch by definition means someone was put to death without a legal process. It usually refers to death by hanging, but not necessarily.

Hang means hang to death by rope, legally or otherwise.

The word "lynch" in the U.S. is often associated with a history of extrajudicial killing of black people, usually by racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.

Whether the term "lynch" would be considered racist would depend on the context in which it was used. If the term was referring to a black individual in the U.S., it might be perceived as racially or historically insensitive.

See the Wikipedia page on Lynching in the United States for more information.

  • 1
    "Whether the term "lynch" on its own would be considered racist would depend on the context in which it's used." "on its own" and "the context" contradict each other. A word on its own is inherently evaluated without a surrouding context. That's what "on its own" means. Words (without context) are not defined by a single possible underlying contextual motivation. Smashing a storefront is not inherently robbery, buying a gun is not inherently murder, having sex with someone is not inherently rape, lynching is not inherently racist.
    – Flater
    Aug 31, 2017 at 11:58
  • I would say that it is racially charged, or racially sensitive, but not itself racist. For example, in an work environment, one might use "lynched" to mean "severely punished, or fired", eg "Steve's going to want to have you lynched if he finds out about this". One might feel uneasy to use the term if the subject was African-American, because of the history of the word with that community - it brings up a lot of unpleasant history. Therefore it does have a "racial" element. Aug 31, 2017 at 11:59
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    @MaxWilliams: I would refrain from telling my hypocritical boss that he "talks the talk but cannot walk the walk" if my boss is bound to a wheelchair; but that does not mean that the saying has an inherent connotation of discriminating against the handicapped. Avoiding an ambiguity does not imply that the two meanings overlap in any way.
    – Flater
    Aug 31, 2017 at 12:01
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    @Flater that's an excellent analogy. That's why I say that the word isn't itself racist but it is "racially charged or "racially sensitive". In the OP's words his friend said it was "racially loaded" (the same thing) and I think the friend is right. I think the OP has confused things by saying "My friend says it's racially loaded" and then saying "Is it actually racist?" (a different thing). Aug 31, 2017 at 12:04
  • @MaxWilliams: I get your point, but I think the issue lies with "racially loaded". "Racially loaded" speaks to something that is inherent to the statement, rather than someone's wrong inference. (see also: "loaded question"). This doesn't need to be intentional by the speaker, but it does need to be inherent to the statement, which is not the case here. I think it's more accurate to say that "lynching" isn't racially loaded, but that it could be (wrongly) inferred as such.
    – Flater
    Aug 31, 2017 at 12:09

I would object on two points: one, the word lynch is not "racist" but rather "racially charged"; two, it's not a matter of its origins but of its later associations. I would still probably avoid the word - but to avoid dragging in confusing associations, rather than for fear of causing offence.

As has been pointed out by WS2, the term "lynch law" pre-dates the KKK, and the earliest victims were not black. That being said, the KKK and its actions have hijacked the popular conception of the terms, so when you use the word "lynch" most people will not think of "rough vigilante justice, followed by summary execution", but of "white-on-black murder". For most audiences in the early 21st century, this is likely to result in a good deal of sympathy for the person being lynched. If that was not your intent, you should use a different phrase.

There is also an unfortunate tendency for people, undergoing some criticism or societal disapproval, to compare themselves to victims of much greater historical injustices - think of Godwin's law, for example. Throwing around the term "lynching" too loosely - "I'm getting lynched here" - should be avoided.


It undoubtedly has historic and cultural connections to race, but I do not believe it is offensively racist.

The term lynch refers to what was known as Lynch law - described by the OED as:

The practice of inflicting summary punishment upon an offender, by a self-constituted court armed with no legal authority; it is now limited to the summary execution of one charged with some flagrant offence.

It is undoubtedly true that the vast majority of victims of lynch law were black. So the term lynch has racial connotations but I do not see why it should be considered offensively racist, or why it cannot equally be applied to a white victim of such.

A victim of Lynch Law, moreover, is not necessarily hanged nor, historically, even killed. The term is meant to cover any form of extra-judicial punishment, though I have never heard it used for anything other than hangings (or perhaps strangulations).

The OED is unsure about the etymology of lynch law, but proposes the following:

‘The origin of the expression has not been determined. It is often asserted to have arisen from the proceedings of Charles Lynch, a justice of the peace in Virginia, who in 1782 was indemnified by an act of the Virginia Assembly for having illegally fined and imprisoned certain Tories in 1780. But Mr. Albert Matthews informs us that no evidence has been adduced to show that Charles Lynch was ever concerned in acts such as those which from 1817 onward were designated as “Lynch's law”. It is possible that the perpetrators of these acts may have claimed that in the infliction of punishments not sanctioned by the laws of the country they were following the example of Lynch, which had been justified by the act of indemnity; or there may have been some other man of this name who was a ring-leader in such proceedings. Some have conjectured that the term is derived from the name of Lynche's Creek, in South Carolina, which is known to have been in 1768 a meeting-place of the “Regulators”, a band of men whose professed object was to supply the want of regular administration of criminal justice in the Carolinas, and who committed many acts of violence on those suspected of “Toryism”.’ (N.E.D.) The particulars supplied by Ellicott, together with other evidence, clearly establish the fact that the originator of Lynch law was Captain William Lynch (1742–1820) of Pittsylvania in Virginia. According to Ellicott, ‘this self-created judicial tribunal was first organized in the state of Virginia about the year 1776’; an article in the Southern Lit. Messenger (1836) 2 389 gives the date definitely as 1780.

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    There are some well-documented cases of extrajudicial killings not by hanging in the same context as most US lynchings and described by the same word. I can't honestly recommend reading about them.
    – Chris H
    May 1, 2017 at 7:47
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    @ChrisH Thanks for the warning. Notwithstanding a passion for history, I am not a person who takes much delight in reflecting on such things.
    – WS2
    May 1, 2017 at 9:13

The question is not the word itself, The real question is where the word first appeared in history and for what reasons that word was used for. Was the word used universally or for a specfic group of people? In www.vocabulary.com it says the word comes from a persons action that occured during a racialially motivated time. "When people take the law into their own hands and decide to punish a suspected criminal — or merely a person who's seen as challenging the status quo — the result can unfortunately be a lynching. Lynchings have most often involved hanging, especially during the period of racially motivated lynchings in the American South. The word lynching and its related verb, lynch, come from Captain William Lynch, who took control of imposing and policing order in Virginia during the Revolutionary War." In www.Wikipedia.com it says the word lynching came out in 1720 in a document that lynch claimed to be the author that later was declared a hoax by experts, apparently the word lynching was written by a racist authors in the 1970's for whatever reasons they had eventually became a word in the dictionary. So the word Lynching is actually a racist word, the word itself is by an author in the 1970's and all he did was create a divide between minorities and white people. So anyone sporting the name Lynch should not use it! If any person uses this word as a team name in any way then they are supporting racism, hundreads of slaves suffered or died under William Lynch. If a person uses this word in a loosely way then obviously they are ignorant to the definition of that word and where it came from, If you use this word and try to change it's meaning; he or she are not the originator of the word and are plagiarizing its definition if they are trying to change it, just go make up a word support it and build it!

  • This answer is well below the quality expected here.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 31, 2017 at 12:19

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