Posted by Dan on September 24, 2003
I checked the archives, but previous explanations of this phrase don't agree with me. I'm not sure, but I was told it originated with a far less pleasant topic. This is not for the squeamish. Please note, I'm not sure at all about this, so I'd like to know if anyone else has heard this.
Public executions by hanging were quite a spectacle in the good old days. When a person is hung, the moment after the drop where the rope snaps tight either breaks the person's neck or it doesn't. The humanitarian thing was to let the person's neck break; this caused a quick death. However, for a better show, if the neck didn't break, the person would twitch and struggle and suffer death by strangulation, although this was considered sloppy work. An experienced executioner who had mastered the difference and could do either was said to have "gotten the hang of it."