Grammar Hammer: “Mad Men” Gets Hanged or Hung?

SPOILER ALERT! If you’re a fan of AMC’s “Mad Men” and have somehow resisted watching the finale of season 5, stop reading now.

“Mad Men” is a great telelvision show. It has a little something for everyone, whether you’re a history buff, a feminist, a fashionista, a workaholic, a parent — or a depressive, an egoist, an adulterer or an alcoholic. It’s a show I can watch and enjoy with my father, my grandmother or my friends; it transcends generation, gender and job. That’s probably why it’s so popular! (Well, that and some great-looking cast members.)

This week’s season finale featured some tragic scenes about Layne Price, a character who is caught embezzling money and consequently decides to kill himself. After Layne carries out the deed in his office, his body is discovered by coworkers.

One of those coworkers, Bertram Cooper, informs the others of the bad news. He says, “Layne hanged himself in his office.”

Does that line sound a little awkward to you? It did to me. I’d probably have opted for, “Lane hung himself in his office.”

The clanging sound of “hanged” in Cooper’s line spurred me to look up the rule on when to use “hung” and when to use “hanged,” and it turns out I was wrong. “Hanged” is indeed grammatically correct in his sentence.

Here’s the quick take on the difference between “hung” and “hanged,” according to Merriam-Webster:

  • “Hung” means “to fasten to some elevated point without support from below.”
  • “Hanged” means “to suspend by the neck until dead.”

Confusion stems from the fact that both words in the present tense are “hang.”

  • Faced with prison and humiliation, Layne Price hangs himself.
  • Don hangs a picture of a Jaguar on the wall.

In other words, pictures are hung, people are hanged.

There are also some irregular uses of “hang.” For example:

  • The student hung onto every word of the professor’s lecture.
  • I hung my head in shame.
  • The boy hung onto his mother’s skirt.

Again, unless you mean “to suspend by the neck until dead,” always use “hung.”

Until next season then… RIP Layne!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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