1912 illustration of an inmate being punished in an American prison


(This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.)


  • (file)

Prepositional phraseEdit

over a barrel

  1. (idiomatic) In a disadvantageous or helpless situation, especially one in which one may be controlled or victimized.
    • 1947 Sept. 1, "Happy Day," Time:
      Ford had the U.A.W. over a barrel; if it failed to sign by midnight, the U.A.W. would be forced to give up its union shop.
    • 2018 Sept. 1, "AP sources: Lawyer was told Russia had 'Trump over a barrel'," AP News:
      Bruce Ohr revealed that "an unnamed former Russian intelligence official had communicated that Russian intelligence believed 'they had Trump over a barrel', a "sentiment [that] is echoed in Steele's dossier".