Fake Etymologies

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A few days ago I posted about the annoying habit of preachers and Bible teachers to illustrate their sermons or lessons with wholly made-up or insufficiently fact-checked stories or claims. but the problem is not limited to preachers and Bible teachers.

Today, on Facebook, I came across a supposed explanation of the origins of the word “hangover“, which is unfortunately entirely fictional.

The claim is that in Victorian England, there were establishments called “penny hangs” where, for a penny, a person could sleep while leaning over a rope. In the morning, the rope would be dropped, and the patrons would be “hungover.”

While it’s true that there were extremely low-cost lodging houses in Victorian England, and conditions in some were dire, there’s no solid historical evidence that “penny hangs” existed in the way the myth describes. Additionally, there’s no direct connection between this concept and the origin of the term “hangover” as it relates to the aftereffects of alcohol consumption.

The story makes for a compelling narrative, but it’s not the true origin of the word “hangover“, and it is because of its compelling nature rather than it’s (non-existent) factualness that it survives and keeps circulating, just as some sermon illustrations survive and are used again and again.

The actual origin of the word is much more mundane and prosaic:

The word has been in the English language since the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

The term “hang” in English has had many different meanings and uses throughout history. One of its meanings relates to the idea of something that remains or is left over. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “hangover” was used to describe something that “hangs over” from one time period to the next.

In the context of the unpleasant aftermath of alcohol, it’s as if the effects of the alcohol are “hanging over” into the next day. By the early 20th century, “hangover” was being used in print to specifically refer to the aftereffects of drinking.

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