Monday, January 28, 2013

Hang ‘Em High

A recent column in the Houston Chronicle by the estimable Leon Hale bore a headline proclaiming: “Year Can Begin Now that Calendar Has Been Hanged.”  I quickly scanned the column to learn what heinous crime could have been committed by a calendar to warrant its capital punishment by this barbaric means.  As it turned out, the calendar was guiltless and was not hanged at all—it was hung.
Since I am certain that Leon Hale knows his way around a grammar book as well as, if not better than, anyone else, I can only chalk this solecism up to some callow doofus on the copy desk (you have to wonder if they still have copy desks) who doesn’t know there is a difference between the two past and past participle forms of the verb to hang. I’ll let language expert Bryan Garner explain, since he speaks with such authority in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage:
“Coats and pictures are hung, and sometimes so are juries.  But criminals found guilty of capital offenses are hanged, at least in some jurisdictions.  But just because it’s a person doesn’t mean that hanged—which implies execution and near-certain death as a result of the suspension—is always the right word.  If a person is suspended for amusement or through malice, and death isn’t intended or likely, then hung is the proper word.”
Garner points out that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was hung upside down after he was executed, but he was not hanged.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is merely trying to hang in there.  Yes he’s trying—very trying.  These words are a case in point:
            If I am ever hanged, by heck,
            I'll turn into a nervous wreck.
            I’ll survive, I suppose,
            If I'm hung by my toes,
            But not if I'm hanged by my neck.

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