The Real Meaning of Hangover

We all know the meaning of the word ‘hangover’, don’t we? Sure, most of us has had that rather painful experience at some point (or many points) in life, but do we really know what “hanging over” means? Well, we have recently come across this meme on social media and were curious to find out whether what it says is true. Here’s what we’ve found.

Well, apparently, there was once a sleeping system like that indeed. The rooms were not heated and the person running the place unhooked the rope and kicked everyone out a 6am. Almost every morning some old timer would not get up, dead and frozen. The principal reference for such an establishment is George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London of 1933:

“At the Twopenny Hangover, the lodgers sit in a row on a bench; there is a rope in front of them, and they lean on this as though leaning over a fence. A man, humorously called the valet, cuts the rope at five in the morning. I have never been there myself, but Bozo had been there often. I asked him whether anyone could possibly sleep in such an attitude, and he said that it was more comfortable than it sounded — at any rate, better than bare floor.”

It is also mentioned in a work from a century earlier, The Magic Skin by Honoré de Balzac: “We … made it a point of honour to find out whether you were roosting in a tree in the Champs-Elysées, or in one of those philanthropic abodes where the beggars sleep on a twopenny rope.”

The connection sounds pretty convincing, and Orwell actually uses the word hangover to describe the method. However, the historical evidence for the term shows that it comes from the idea of something that remains or is left over – a remainder or survival or after-effect – of being drunk, and not of a person literally being hung over anything.

The same story has also been suggested as the supposed origin of to be able to sleep on a clothesline, meaning to be so utterly tired one could sleep anywhere. There might be an association here, though it’s impossible to be sure.



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