My husband replied, "Hanged."
I stopped. Looked at him. Raised my eyebrows in a well-practiced demand for explanation.
He explained, "When you are speaking of a person who has been killed, they've been hanged, not hung."
"What?" I was incredulous. Never heard of that one...but this guy--he's always pulling crazy things like that out of his hat. He may not plow through books like I do, but he's pretty much brilliant...and honestly has a better brain for remembering grammar terms than I do.
I continued, "I don't think I like that."
"Anyhow," I said, "she was hung because she gave birth to a stillborn baby when she was 5-6 months pregnant and was accused of murder."
We smiled and went on to discuss the story briefly, as well as scientific theories of the 17th century...both pretty interesting topics. Then this morning, after spending a little bit of time with my friend Google, I informed him of my findings.
I have no problem admitting that, generally speaking, my husband is right. He usually is. I'm resigned to that fact. When speaking of executions, the word is hanged; everything else gets hung. We could leave it at that (thank you very much for stopping by, have a nice day,) but I wanted to know if it was a RULE or if it was, like so many things in English, a trend, preference, or even a choice. My favorite commentaries on the matter were the about.com page, and Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips.
About.com had me from the first two words. It said, "For centuries," and I knew I was going to find more than the simplified rule.
"For centuries, hanged and hung were used interchangeably as the past participle of hang. Most contemporary usage guides insist that hanged, not hung, should be used when referring to executions."Mm, interesting already. I love finding out the etymology behind the words we use. English is such a mish-mash of adopted and stolen vocabulary that it is rarely plain and simple. I loved the example this page cited from Merriam-Webster's 1994 Dictionary of English Usage:
"Our evidence shows that hung for hanged is certainly not an error. Educated speakers and writers use it commonly and have for many years. . . . " Hanged is, however, more common than hung in writing. It is especially prevalent when an official execution is being described, but it is used in referring to other types of hanging as well. . . .Just my style. (Cue evil grin. Initiate renegade-grammar-usage sequence.) Grammar Girl supports this, and also mentions where the word "hang" came from, just in case you are interested. (The emphasis above, by the way, was mine.)
"The distinction between hanged and hung is not an especially useful one (although a few commentators claim otherwise). It is, however, a simple one and easy to remember. Therein lies its popularity. If you make a point of observing the distinction in your writing you will not thereby become a better writer, but you will spare yourself the annoyance of being corrected for having done something that is not wrong."
So, while I'm still trying to decide whether to continue saying FebRUary, (because saying FebUary makes me feel like I'm saying Libary, but that R makes me feel like I'm mumbling,) I will also continue practicing the difference between lie/lay (don't know why that one still holds me up) and happily continuing to spell GREY with an E, I will add the task of mulling over this question: whether being a grammar renegade is worth the "annoyance of being corrected for having done something that is not wrong."
What thinkest thou? Is it worth it? Are you all just laughing in befuddlement that a person who reads as much as I do could have been ignorant of such a basic thing? Never fear, I've pulled out my illustrated Elements of Style, and hope to become obnoxiously intelligent shortly. Or maybe I'll shoot for intelligently smug instead. Although, I have to admit, blissfully ignorant has its attractions as well.