Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

To Be over a Barrel (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Be over a Barrel"?

To have someone over the barrel means to have someone totally at your mercy. It is a nautical term, which derives from the practice of hanging a drowned, usually unconscious person over a barrel to clear their lungs of water. The fate of the "patient" was determined solely by the actions of those administering the treatment. In other words, he was at their mercy.



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