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I was learning the difference between hanged and hung and encountered this article.

Now, I can't understand what it's trying to teach me because it says we use 'hung' when talking about inanimate things, but in this example, it says he (a person).

It's not that simple, however: mots usage guides reserve hanged for people subjected to death, which means if an inanimate object is suspended frmo a gallows, the correct term is hung.

Despised bu voters, he was hung in effigy.

So, if any of you do manage to understand what it means, please let me know.

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  • Related (duplicate?) Why are clothes “hung” but men “hanged”? Feb 28, 2023 at 19:01
  • There isn't going to be an authoritative list of every possible thing that can be hanged vs hung. What about a robot, an ape, a Neanderthal, a mannequin, an already-dead corpse? Use either.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 1, 2023 at 16:13
  • As noted in my comment beneath alphabet's answer, there is considerable support in published works over many decades for both "hanged in effigy" and "hung in effigy." It's interesting to me that one variant hasn't pushed the other to the periphery of usage after all those years.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 1, 2023 at 17:15

2 Answers 2

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The key phrase there is in effigy. As TfD notes, this means "symbolically," or more specifically "in the form of an effigy," a "a crude figure or dummy representing a hated person."

So "he was hung in effigy" means that a "dummy" or other object representing him was hung. So the thing being hung was, in fact, inanimate.

That said, as I've argued before, insisting on the use of "hanged" makes very little sense.

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  • See this question. Hanged is traditionally correct for the method of execution, but hung may also be used in that sense. Feb 28, 2023 at 18:50
  • This Ngram graph tracking the frequency of occurrence of "hanged in effigy" (blue line) and of "hung in effigy" (red line) for the period 1800–2019 suggest that there is considerable disagreement in published works as to which form is preferable.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 1, 2023 at 4:56
  • 1
    @alphabet: People who are overly pedantic about this should be hanged, drawn and quartered ;-)
    – psmears
    Mar 1, 2023 at 14:31
  • @psmears If we really want to be consistent, shouldn't it be "hanged, drawed, and quartered"?
    – alphabet
    Mar 2, 2023 at 4:53
  • @alphabet: Haha, definitely :-)
    – psmears
    Mar 2, 2023 at 9:56
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The verb to hang has three roots. (1) the Old English strong hón ( < hâhan ), heng, hangen , (hǫngen ), transitive and strong;

(2) the Old English weak hangian , hangode , -od , (also hǫng- ), intransitive and weak

(3) the Old Norse causal verb hęngjan transitive = Old High German hęngan

By the 13th century, the verb had begun to split between North English and South English. The North had heng , hing , past hang , hong ; the South had hang , hong , and past heng , hing. This became more marked in the 15th century.

Meanwhile, the Norse verb was assimilated into English, became ambitransive and formed a weak verb hengde , henged , hingde , hinged but soon, developed by assimilation, a past tense hang.

All this time, the weak version was still in use but finally, the northern inflection hing, hang, was completed by the past participle hung, and in the 16th century entered into general English (like sing, sung, sung ), and the earlier heng , hing , and hong became obsolete, although it remained in southern dialect into the 20th century.

From the very early 17th century, the dominance of the King James Version of the Bible, however, interfered. The King James Version was written in a typical old-fashioned manner by men who had learned their grammar and vocabulary from equally staid and formal teachers and therefore reflected an English that, even then, was dated in style.

In keeping with Coverdale’s earlier work, throughout KJV, there are 19 references to hanging people and only two to hanging things – all 21 use the past participle “hanged”. There is no mention of “has/have/had hung” at all.

(As an aside Shakespeare seems to have recognised the difference and uses “hanged (pp) throughout in respect of people, and once in a causative sense with respect to a thing, and once uses “hung” (pp) for a thing.)

As the Bible is quite solemn, judges, when pronouncing sentence of death copied the style and always used “be hanged by the neck until dead…”

These two sources, particularly the latter, gave rise to the lasting idea, which has no real justification, that there were two versions of to hang: one for people (weak verb - hang, hanged, hanged) and one for things (strong verb - hang, hung, hung).

This is in strange contradiction to the original transitivity, which, by virtue of the etymological fallacy, should give

We hung the man on the gallows

He has hanged on the gallows from dusk.

And

The rope has hanged/hung on the gallows / The rope has hanged/hung the man on the gallows.

The distinction of weak as a cause of death / strong for an object has found a firm place in folk-linguistics much as the idea that walking under a ladder will bring bad luck.

As they say, "When enough people are wrong, they are right." Either that or "because that's the way it turned out."

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