In Reply to: Over a barrel posted by ESC on July 05, 2009 at 18:58:
: : : What is the origin of phrase "to be over a barrel?"
: : : Thank you for this wonderful service.
: : Apparently it is of American origin, and the most likely derivation comes from a form of punishment, or humiliation, involving binding someone's hands and feet and rolling them over a barrel.
: : A person in that situation is completely at the mercy of his captors/tormentors and thus is had 'over a barrel'.
: : DFG
: According to my references (and http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/over-a-barrel.html on this site) it refers to a method of forcing water out of a near drowning victim's lungs.
Gary's excellent discussion of "over a barrel" includes a panel from "Our Boarding House," of whom the star was Major Hoople. This appeared every Sunday (and possibly daily?) in many newspapers. I think it was syndicated, but I can't read the fine print at the bottom of the panel. Major Hoople was a source of amusement to thousands of readers, and it was from him that I first learned how to spell "Pshaw!"
I'm sure Gary is correct in believing that "over a barrel" was in wide use before 1938.