Posted by ESC on October 06, 2003
In Reply to: Doubt it posted by Lewis on October 06, 2003
: : To Pull Ones Leg
: : Meaning: to play a trick on someone
: : Origin: From the old days in England when people were hung and left to swing in the wind, the poor children would try to pull the hangmen by their leg to get something of value to pop out. Matures would come by and tell the children to leave the dead alone and not to -pull ones leg- as a trick to get something in return for their efforts.
: In the days of hanging, pulling the legs of a person being hung was done to end their suffering. An unlucky person being hanged could suffer for a long time if things did not go right. most of the time people would jerk around on the end of the rope 'doing the Tyburn jig' as it was called. Friends and relatives would often try to get to the feet of a suffering hangee and pull in the hope of breaking the neck or of the increased pressure closing the carotid artery in the neck thereby hoping to cause unconsciousness/death.
: Any child trying to pull a leg would either get a foot in the face from a spasm, or most probably wet from bodily effluence. Hanging was not a neat and tidy business. It would be rare for somebody being hanged to have anything of value left - often their last coins would go to the hangman to encourage him to ensure a quick death not a suspended sentence...
The hanging theory has been suggested before. See https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/19/messages/1380.html