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Enough rope

Posted by Smokey Stover on September 22, 2005

In Reply to: Enough rope posted by Bob on September 20, 2005

: : : Hi. I was just wondering about the meaning of the phrase 'if you give someone enough rope they will hang themselves with it' I asked my dad why he never encouraged me and he said this to me. In what context did he mean it?, did he want me to be a failure?

: : He may have thought he was protecting you from taking risks that could lead to failure. That's the only sense I can make of his explanation.

: I agree. And his explanation is a load of crap. Some parents (thankfully, not many) undermine their children's confidence by never allowing them to take risks, or to make an effort which could lead to failure ... or success. It's something, Carley, you'll have to outgrow on your own. When you have children, be supportive and affirmative. The world will be better for it.

The classic form of this adage is: "Give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself." I can't point to anything resembling an original use, but it's in very common use in verbal contexts. That is, let a man (usually one whom you do not wish well) keep talking, or let him have his way without hindrance, and he'll eventually screw up bigtime. Suppose, for instance, you are investigating a crime and interviewing a suspect; if you let him talk freely, he may incriminate himself. Or if you let a politician keep on with his manipulations, he may just manipulate himself into real trouble.

Often the first clause is used for humorous effect, e.g., if you give a man enough rope, he'll just use it to lasso women.

I think your dad completely misunderstood the phrase. Perhaps he thought he was saying that he didn't want to spoil you. Perhaps he though that if he encouraged you in the wrong thing it would be on his head. I doubt that he wanted to harm you. But then, I don't know your dad. SS