To Be over a Barrel (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

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 probably derives from two practices:
  • Hanging a drowned, usually unconscious person over a barrel to clear their lungs of water.
  • Using a barrel as a stage for a disciplinary flogging.
In either scenario, the fate of the "patient" or "victim" was determined solely by the actions of those administering the treatment. In other words, he was at their mercy.
To Have Someone over a Barrel (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • She's had me over a barrel since she learned about the affair.
  • My boss has me over a barrel because he knows I need the money.
  • I hate to put you over a barrel, but you have to choose.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs