4

1. What is the etymology of banged-up = "imprisoned"?

Briefly googling, I couldn't find any etymology.

(I'm guessing it came from the banging sound of the gate/door as one is locked up?)

Related questions:

2. Is banged-up American English, British English, or both?

I don't think I've heard/seen it in AmE. And some dictionaries claim it is BrE (e.g. Collins, Oxford).

3. Is it still regularly used or archaic?

7
  • He got all banged up in the fight. It is not just BrE slang. I think you mean the origin of the phrase, not etymology.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 11 at 15:23
  • 4
    @Lambie My dictionary says etymology = "the origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning". I don't think it's too much of a stretch to apply this to idioms as well.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 11 at 18:12
  • I've never heard of this idiom before. But I'm not in a community that would use prison slang much.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 11 at 18:14
  • 1
    @Lambie: He got all banged up in the fight. Clearly, that's not the sense of banged-up I'm asking about here. To repeat, I'm asking about banged-up = "imprisoned".
    – user182601
    Commented Jul 12 at 0:09
  • 1
    There is no etymology. Phrases have origins, origins. Not etymology.
    – Lambie
    Commented 2 days ago

1 Answer 1

0
  1. What is the etymology of banged-up = "imprisoned"? (I'm guessing it came from the banging sound of the gate/door as one is locked up?)

That is the general consensus. Pre-internet slang is notoriously difficult to trace back as it has usually taken a long time to reach print.

  1. Is banged-up American English, British English, or both?

In the sense you give, the OED first records it quite recently (in linguistic terms) in 1950 and marks it as “British”. I had suspected it to be army slang, but I can’t find anything earlier.

OED

transitive. British slang (originally Criminals' slang). to bang up: to lock up, imprison, detain in custody; to confine (a prisoner) to a cell; (in extended use) to confine to a particular place. Usually in passive.

1950 Banged up,..‘locked up’ or ‘locked in a cell’. P. Tempest, Lag's Lexicon 9

It also carries the nuance of perfunctorily; without ceremony or care

I don't think I've heard/seen it in AmE.

The American version “banged up” is used to mean “damaged” or “injured” and is much older.

There was an earlier British and American version “to bang up” – to spring to one’s feet:

OED

III. Senses relating to throwing.

III.7.a. intransitive (dialect) To throw oneself or spring with a sudden impetuous movement, to dash, to bounce.

1796 Up he bang'd; and sair afflicted, Sad and silent took the road! H. Macneill, Waes o' War iii. 20

1814 English Clay left his D.I.O...and banged down to Clay-Hall. M. Edgeworth, Patronage vol. III. xxx. 255

There may be a connection here – throwing someone into a cell, but this is tenuous (i) because of the used of “up” (=upwards) which fits with this version, but not with the “incarcerated” version in which the up is also adverbial but in that context "up" is not "upwards" but implies “completely/finally” and (ii) the distance between the uses. From the OED, this latter meaning seems to have died out c. 1912.

  1. Is it still regularly used or archaic?

It’s certainly not archaic. My experience is that it is mostly used humorously now but is still valid.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.