Friday, October 02, 2009

Dancing the Hangman's Jig

It must presumably have been the sight of prisoner's legs swinging as they were publically hanged that invited the comparison with dancing, hence the expression doing or dancing the hangman's jig. The dance needn't be a jig of course - there's also the popular fiddle tune The Hangman's Reel, or La Reel du Pendu in its French-Canadian version.

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

(Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol)

Image is of John André, hanged in New York state in 1780 as a British spy.


nfragala said...

It's from the rope snapping the spinal column, causing the body to convulse. Not the swinging of the legs from gravity.

Unknown said...

It's actually when the rope didn't snap the neck. Causing them to struggle & fight for air, which is a natural body reaction. If it snapped their neck upon release then they'd die instantly.