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I'm reading the marvelous book "The Hitchhiker's Guide of the Galaxy" and I've found what it seems to be a famous quote:

"The chances of finding out what's really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is to say 'hang the sense of it' and keep yourself occupied … "

I was looking around and I found an alternate version that drops the 'to say' and I wonder if that makes any difference:

"The chances of finding out what's really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied … "

Because of the huge success of the book I couldn't google my way to any explanation of the phrase.

My mother language is Spanish, if that helps.

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There is a kind of colloquial expression that I believe is British (not any of the American dialects I speak or know) is something like "hang it all."

Short answer: it means "forget that person," "forget that idea," essentially because it is not worthy of consideration.

Long answer: "To hang someone" is to kill another human being under government sanction as a form of punishment generally terms an "execution" for committing a crime that the government deems worthy of death. Also, in many stories from or during the period of the 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't uncommon for a group of self-proclaimed law-keepers--say a "posse," or a gang of Fascists, like the Ku Klux Klan, to deem a person worthy of such a punishment as well.

We might feel contempt for a person who is worthy of such a crime. By extension, we might feel contempt for anything. So, we might say, "Hang them." It more or less carries the connotation that those people are not important or are worthy of contempt.

Joe: "We need to get back. Baker's going to be angry." Bill: "Hang Baker. I'm going to get dessert."

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I've never heard that expression before. I read the book a long time and don't remember what the context of that sentence. However, "hang the sense of it" is not a common idiom in English is an idiom in English at all. My impression is, given that the source of the expression if The Hitchhikers Guide, the expression is likely made up.

The way I interpret it, though, is to mean that, given that "the chances of finding out what's really going in the universe are do remote," it's not worth trying to find out.

  • So everybody just reproduced it without knowing what exactly it means. I know that is entirely possible but, I don't know, I was hoping it had a meaning. – jhoanegar Jul 12 '14 at 22:01
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    I believe 'hang' was often used in place of the "harsher" 'damn' in the not too distant past. "Hang it all" is the cleaned up version of "Damn it all" the quote is saying it makes no sense and the only thing you can do is say "Damn the sense (or no sense)" and move on. – Jim Jul 12 '14 at 22:32
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    @Jim That's exactly right. Twain was especially fond of Hang it! – StoneyB Jul 12 '14 at 23:10
  • @Jim I agree too. Other ways of saying the same thing are "to hell with the sense of it" or "to heck with the sense of it." The expression comes from hang in the sense of hanging a person until dead (cf. "Well, I'll be hanged", "I'm hanged if I know"). Presumably it's less harsh to be hanged than to be damned, and to be darned even less so. :) – BobRodes Jul 13 '14 at 3:51
  • @Jim That makes a lot of sense! You should have posted that as an answer, I'd accept it if you do :) – jhoanegar Jul 13 '14 at 3:58
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I'm not familiar with the idiom "hang the sense of it" either. Building on what Mark & Obfuskater said, I think rephrasing the quote might clarify it a bit (though I think the original is much better).

e.g. - The chances of MAKING SENSE of what's really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.

So, in other words, stop worrying about the why and instead just live your life. Reminds me of my reaction to an acquaintance who spent a lot of time seeking proof of life after death and even publishing on the subject. My unexpressed attitude was why bother seeking proof - we'll all find out soon enough if there is, so why spend precious time on the subject, especially if it turns out that there isn't? …

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From Oxford Living Dictionaries:

hang ... 2.2 dated Used in expressions as a mild oath.

From Collins:

hang ... v. 15. slang to damn or be damned: used in mild curses or interjections

From Longman:

hang something British English, old-fashioned used to say that you are not going to do something: Oh hang the report, let’s go for a drink.

"Hang the sense of it" can be paraphrased as "to hell with the sense of it" or "never mind the sense of it", i.e. no point in spending time trying to work out what it all means.

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