Get the Word! Podcast Episode: (Hopefully) Better than Lodging at the Twopenny Hangover


(Hopefully) Better than Lodging at the Twopenny Hangover

Audio Transcript:

(Hopefully) Better than Lodging at the Twopenny Hangover

Hello everyone. It’s Mike, your host of Get the Word! It’s July 3rd and that means it’s a holiday weekend here in the United States, celebrating our independence from Britain. That’s not what I want to talk about today though. Rather I’m going to talk about the word ‘hangover’, in anticipation of a potential hangover this weekend from having a bit too much fun watching all the fireworks and cookin’ up some tofu wieners (please don’t tell the band Silver Abuse though - ) .

Let’s start with the definition of ‘hangover’, which is a severe headache or other after effects caused by drinking an excessive amount of alcohol. It also has a second definition as ‘a thing that has survived from the past, as in: a hangover from the sixties’. We’ll talk about how both uses came to be today.

There are a couple of theories as to how this term came to be associated with feeling ill the day after drinking too much alcohol. We’ll get to those. First, though, it may surprise you, or not, that the second definition, as in ‘something or someone that survived from the past’ is most likely the older of the two uses of the term. This is attributed back to 1894 by Etymonline, ‘a survival; a thing left over from before’. If this term truly didn’t pop up until the turn of the 20th century, then the other use of the term related to excessive drinking was close behind as its first use is attested by 1902, from the same source, stating that this is an American English term piggybacking on the notion of having something lingering, or something left over from, say, the night before.

Merriam Webster confirms this late 19th century origin, and also likes to point out that a common use popping up in modern English is ‘hangover’ to suggest an ‘emotional letdown’ or ‘undesirable prolongation of notes or sounds from a loudspeaker’. Have you ever used hangover in this way? Write into the podcast and tell us how you use ‘hangover’ outside of talking about a bad headache after a night of drinking.

So this is a very plausible explanation for the term ‘hangover’ after drinking too much. The word ‘hang’, having deep Indo-European roots brings us to origins of the word such as the Anglo - Saxon ‘hangian’ which I’ve seen translated as ‘to be suspended’; other very similar sounding words we can see in Old Norse, Dutch, German… The word ‘over’ is also very ancient Indo-European related to Dutch and the German ‘úber’, which some of you may recognize. If you go down a rabbit hole within the Oxford dictionary you can find this ‘úber’ with its own listing as a prefix to denote an outstanding or supreme example of something, as in ‘uberbabe’ (Oxford’s example not mine). The origin of THIS prefix in English attributed to the term ‘übermensch’, which is a term that all you Nietzsche-heads out there most certainly know well. For everyone else, an ‘übermensch’ is a word originally coined by the German philosopher Nietzsche in the mid 1880s which describes ‘the ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values’ (OXFORD). We don’t have to get into the implications of this term in the 20th century and… 21st… that’s a topic for a different podcast. However, I do suggest that everyone go out and find the film Rope by Alfred Hitchcock, a film loosely based on the real life wannabe ubermensches Leopold and Lomb, two young men from the American Midwest who took Nietzsche’s ideas just a bit too far.

I’m mentioning all of this (in a rather clumsy way) just so I can stumble backwards quite drunkenly to the word ‘hangover’ by explaining that ‘übermensch’ is often translated into English as ‘superman’ but also as ‘overman’.

That was just to give you a better idea of the components of the word ‘hangover’. I’ll let you ruminate on all of that if you’d like. The bottom line, it makes sense that a term called ‘hangover’ meaning something left over from the past could become a great word to describe the horrible feeling after drinking that leaves you full of regret about something you did in your very recent past. After the break, we’ll discuss one theory of the origin of the term ‘hangover’ that has been debunked and we’ll open up the Fact Cabinet and take a peak inside. Stay with us.

— Break —

Before the break, we decided, along with most credible sources, that ‘hangover’ as a term used to describe the horrible feeling you have the day after a night of debauchery most likely comes from the broader use of the term ‘hangover’ as a word meaning ‘something left behind’ or ‘something survived from the past’. There is one other theory I’d like to share, though.

Last week we talked about Snopes, a fact checking resource that’s been around since the early days of the internet. This week our topic brings us to another fact checking site, On their site, they mention a recent social media post that features an old photograph of a group of hunched over drunkards all of whom are leaning over suspended ropes which are keeping them from plummeting face first to the ground that, one can assume, is blanketed in vomit and other drunkard detritus. The leadstories page, which you can find in the show notes, features this old photo along with the partnering text from the social media post that reads: “The lowest form of accommodation in Victorian England was access to bend over a rope for the night at the price of a penny. Usually used by drunken sailors who has spent all their money drinking. It's said to be the origin of the term "Hungover".

It’s said … nothing like the passive voice to avoid giving attribution. LeadStories goes on to debunk this little tidbit of misinformation by reminding us that this photograph is not actually a photo from the Victorian era but is instead a photo taken on the set of the film The Great Train Robbery, which is set in the 1850s, but shot in the 1970s. This film, starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, released in 1978, set in 1850s England, tells the tale of a master criminal who aims to rob a train that is carrying a bunch of gold. There is a very short scene in which the film has our character, who is being chased, running through the room full of dangling drunks that we see in the photograph.

The caption of the photograph reads: “They're REALLY hung over. Well, not really. In 19th century England, innkeepers supplied patrons with a "penny hang," a kind of drying out room. For a penny, innkeepers provided ropes for seamen to sleep on. In a new film, "The Great Train Robbery," a lot of patrons are on the ropes in this scene. The movie is set in the 1850s.”

… and there’s no evidence we can find that traces the term hangover or hungover to this Victorian practice. Did this practice of offering drunken seamen a rope to sleep against even truly exist back in the 19th century? Well, there is some evidence that it did, including this quote from the 1831 novel The Magic Skin by Balzac, writing about beggars in Paris: “… one of those philanthropic abodes where the beggars sleep on a twopenny rope."

Another artist, Daumier (DOME-yay), another man also living in Paris at around the same time as Balzac drew a sketch of six seated individuals sleeping against a rope. The sketch is part of a collection on the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation website. You can find a link to this sketch in the show notes as well.

We seem to have some evidence that this practice truly existed. For example, another work of fiction, George Orwell’s 1933 book Down and Out in Paris and London: “At the Twopenny Hangover, the lodgers sit in a row on a bench; there is a rope in front of them, and they lean on this as though leaning over a fence. A man, humorously called the valet, cuts the rope at five in the morning. I have never been there myself, but Bozo had been there often. I asked him whether anyone could possibly sleep in such an attitude, and he said that it was more comfortable than it sounded -- at any rate, better than bare floor.” the bare floor again, most likely just sprinkled with vomit.

So these horrible lodging accommodations most likely really did exist. It’s much more unlikely though that the term ‘hangover’ came from this practice.

FACT CABINET: It’s time to take a peak inside the Fact Cabinet.

Hey, my neighbor’s cat snuck into the fact cabinet again. Shoo shoo. She loves curling up and taking little cat naps atop my bust of King Louis XIV. Here’s a little cat fact for ya: did you know that the Germans have a word for a hangover, katzenjammer, that can roughly be translated to ‘wailing of cats’. This term was all the rage with English speakers in the 19th century because of a popular long running comic strip called Katzenjammer Kids” that featured mischievous twins named Hans and Fritz. The word became so popular in fact that the more English sounding ‘katzenjammer’ [ˈkatsənˌjamər] can still be found in the Oxford dictionary today as a term not just for a hangover but for any type of confusion or uproar as well.

Okay, so I don’t have any Twopenny Hangover ropes in my Fact Cabinet (I’m currently the highest bidder in an eBay auction for one though), but I do have in my collection a four-penny coffin. A fourpenny coffin, or fourpence coffin was a feature of a coffin house, which you could find throughout London during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you could cough up four pennies, you’d be given a piece of cloth to cover yourself and your own wooden box for the night, placed right beside dozens and dozens of other fourpenny coffins laid out on the floor. Go to the English Sessions website to see a photograph, circa 1900, of these cozy coffins all lined up in rows at a London Burne Street hostel.

These cheap places to stay were often run by the Salvation Army, in one of the first efforts to house homeless individuals in Victorian London. If you only had a single penny to spare, you could sit on a bench, but you were not allowed to doze off. Wow! I’m glad these types of conditions don’t exist anymore at homeless shelters. Well, maybe they do, somewhere, but hopefully not in London anymore.

If I could give my two cents, plus two more, I think I’d choose the floor coffin over a dangling rope any day. What are your thoughts? Have you ever slept in a coffin? Are you a dracula who regularly sleeps in a coffin?


Write in to the podcast: . Give us your word suggestions, and I’ll take them into consideration for the podcast. Please rate and review this podcast ANYWHERE that you can. It’s super helpful. Podcast artwork by Bruno Sanches. You can find a link to his work in the show notes. Music performed by the Monroeville Music Center. Production, editing and research performed by me, Mike Butler. Write in to the podcast and give us your comments. That email again is We’d love to hear from you.

Shout outs: @johnrichardson4 @hodgman


Show notes:

Oxford Dictionary


Fact Cabinet:

Every episode:

Music performed by Monroeville Music Center:

And Kevin Macleod

Artwork for Get the Word! created by Bruno Sanches:



Popular Posts