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Over a barrel

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 06, 2009 at 00:07

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 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.