What does HANG OUT mean?

Today we’re going to hang out with one of the most popular, culturally significant, but almost impossible to translate slang expressions in the English language: HANG OUT!  Today you will learn everything you need to know about this very important English phrase:

  • Why understanding this IMPORTANT PHRASE is so essential for your English.
  • Real life EXAMPLES of how native English speakers use it (Formal/ Informal)
  • How ROMANTIC INTENTIONS can be confused (or abused) if you don’t understand and use it properly.
  • Why it’s so HARD TO TRANSLATE and depends so much on the CULTURAL CONTEXT
  • OTHER USES of hang and hang out, plus the HISTORY OF HANG OUT. 

Leia este texto em Portugues 

This expression is literally everywhere in native English speaking world, yet surprisingly few non-native English speakers know how to use and understand it properly. HANG OUT, in all its rich and varied uses, is not only a slang expression, but it is used in formal situations by people of all ages, and in what seem to be all English speaking countries.

As an American teaching in Brazil, I’m always explaining it to my students and friends, and in an effort to help them understand both this important piece of my language AND my culture,  I’ve decided to explain the how to use the phrasal verb HANG OUT in English.

HOW NATIVE SPEAKERS USE HANG OUT

Real Life Examples

  • Do you wanna hang out this weekend? (do something together socially)
  • I’m just gonna hang out at home tonight (relax by myself)
  • I used to hang out a lot at that park when I was a kid. (to frequent a place)
  • Can you just hang out for a second while I get ready? (wait in a relaxed way)
  • Google has used this term as a noun to for its video chat with hangouts (n)
  • I’m tired of spending my time at Starbucks (cafe). I need a new hangout. (n)

You Can HANG OUT Alone or with Friends

As explained in the examples above, you can say, “I’m going to hang out at home” or “hang out with my friends.”  Both are correct in the sense that you are going to do something that doesn’t require a lot of planning or effort.

Social vs Romantic HANGING OUT

To ask somebody to HANG OUT can mean to socialize in an innocent and non-romantic way, but it is often used as a subtle way to ask somebody out on a date (to do something social together with a romantic intention).

This is where cultural understanding can be critical, so if you know how to use HANG OUT, you can use (or abuse) the ambiguity of the expression for your romantic intentions, and also understanding this can help avoid unfortunate misunderstandings. Also note that JUST HANGING OUT can be an indirect way to say that two people are getting to know each other with a romantic intention (similar to "Ficando" in Portuguese- but it's not as obvious).

If you really do want to ask someone out in a subtle way, this could be a good, relaxed way to see if they are interested. 3 ways to ask/ suggest are:

  • Do you wanna hang out next weekend?
  • Let's hang out on Saturday.
  • We should hang out sometime.

Take a look at Urban Dictionary’s definition to the below. (Urban dictionary is an online slang dictionary where all terms are voted on the people. We highly recommend this incredible resource).

Definition, Conjugation, and Usage Notes of HANG and HANG OUT

  • HANG OUT (vb) has many dynamic meanings that range from: to be inactive, passive, at rest, to common colloquial and slang uses, which include to be lazy, not do anything, to wait, to spend time in a place, to be together socially, as well as to do something relaxing that hasn’t been decided yet.
  • The root verb, HANG has two main meanings:

(A) to be suspended from above. Check out the word play joke of the cats hanging (see picture to the right). You also hang your laundry to dry.  Conjugation: hang/ hung/ hung

(B) Another definition of HANG is to be put to death by hanging *Different Conjugation: hang/ hanged/ hanged

  • In informal English, people often omit the OUT from hang out. For example, "I'm just hanging with my friends at the park."

The Difficulty of Translating HANG OUT

Part of the difficulty is that HANG OUT isn’t easily or concisely translated into other languages because its meaning is very dynamic and it really depends on the English speaking socio-cultural context.

Portuguese and Spanish, for example, have 4 or 5 expressions that come close, but in my opinion, don’t do justice. I always tell my students that it’s a highly cultural expression and you have to feel the situation.

3 Possible Origins of the Expression HANG OUT

In my research of the topic, I discovered a few stories that allude to possible origins. Here are ones that seem the most plausible.

  • 1840’S LOITERING: Hang Out was a derogatory/negative term from the mid 19th century to describe kids who “hung out” idle, not doing anything (when people do this in front of businesses, it is often called loitering). This was/ is a crime in more conservative parts of the United States.
  • PUBLIC EXECUTIONS: Some sources claim that Hang Out originated long before TV and modern entertainment, with public executions (called hangings). People would attend hangings together (hang out) for entertainment and relaxation.
  • DUKES/KINSMEN & FLAGS: Other sources claim that English feudal rulers (dukes, knights, etc) used to hang out their flags when they were home to communicate that they were available for socializing.

Other Uses of Hang Out

  • We use Hang Out literally when we something that should be kept inside is exposed: Today I walked around town for an hour with my wallet HANGING OUT of my pocket until a nice woman told me.
  • LET IT ALL HANG OUT is to give your best, often in a sporting event. Another meaning of this is to be authentic, relaxed, and to generally just be yourself  (to be real).

7 Comments

  1. Adir Ferreira on January 30, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Great post, people!

    • Justin Murray on January 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks Adir! We gotta hang out one these days on skype!

  2. Ethan on February 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Awesome Justin. I agree that as an English teacher this is one of the most challenging words/phrases to explain to my students. Now I can just give them this link! Thanks.

  3. Aliana Calzada on January 30, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Omg I loved this article, I speak Spanish but I’m learning English rn, and somebody else told me something with hang out and I just didn’t understand lol but I find this page on Google and help me so much okay thank you teacher! And though the articles was in English I understand all of it. So that mean that I’m learning right haha

  4. Aliana Calzada on January 30, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Omg I loved this article, I speak Spanish but I’m learning English rn, and somebody else told me something with hang out and I just didn’t understand lol but I find this page on Google and help me so much okay thank you teacher! And though the articles was in English I understand all of it. So that mean that I’m learning right haha

  5. Rieke on November 7, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Very good!

    Can I ask something?

    What would you say if someone says:
    „it was awesome and nice to hang out with you“?
    What does it mean?

  6. Elden Philippe on October 11, 2018 at 12:33 am

    Great site. Thanks for showing us.

Leave a Comment