Straphanger is a nickname for a standing subway or bus passenger who grips a hanging strap (nowadays usually an overhead horizontal bar) for support. The name is thought to have originated in the late 19th century when elevated trains had leather straps for the passengers to hold on to.
More generally, it has come to refer to a commuter who uses public transportation:
- 16 April 1893, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 33:
- But Lili (a dwarf elephant – ed.) weighs only seventy pounds and her tread would not affect a corn as much as that of the dudish strap-hanger whose equilibrium has been disturbed by the sudden jerk of a green gripman.
- 22 February 1896, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 7:
- “No sane man,” said a North-sider yesterday who has been a strap-hanger for years, “expects the street car lines to furnish seats for every passenger during the rush hour morning and evening.”
- 19 April 1899, New York Times, pg. 6:
- When the offer of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company to build the underground railroad was published, the million strap-hangers were silent, inert, and helplessly contemplative.
- "An imposing and formal man, Prescott Bush commuted for years to Grand Central Station, then rode down to Wall Street on the subway. 'He'd die now,' according to George's sister Nancy, 'with limos picking them up. He was a straphanger.'" — Andrew Delbanco, "Self-Remade Man," The New York Times review
Primarily Army Special Forces and Airborne Infantry/Ranger units:
- Military Meaning 1: A parachutist who volunteers to make a jump with a different platoon, team or group – he is said to “Strap Hang” on to the “stick” of Jumpers. The actual term “Strap Hang” is derived in this Military Airborne context because prior to exiting the aircraft, the line of jumpers (known as a “stick”) stands in a line, facing the paratroop door – with their “static line” hooked to an Anchor Line Cable running the length of the aircraft. They grip the static line in their hand and literally – hang on to it as the aircraft makes its way to the drop zone – thus the term “straphanger”. Essentially all the jumpers are straphangers – but the term is only applied to those who were added at the last minute to the jump manifest or who volunteered to jump, coming from a different unit.
- Military Meaning 2: A person who is accepted by a Special Forces or Airborne Infantry/Ranger platoon or team into their closed circle of trusted friends and acquaintances, and is included as an honorary member of the group – mostly during social gatherings however.
- "Straphanger" is sometimes used to mean a person who benefits from the actions and exertions of someone else, with no efforts of their own; someone who is "just along for the ride". (See also free rider problem.)
- Alternatively, "straphanger(s)" may refer to the easy targets of pick pockets on crowded public transportation.
- In the military slang used by airborne units: airborne qualified personnel conducting an airborne operation with another unit.
- In the central Down East region of Maine, straphanger has become an insult used against persons who are perceived as being "from away". The term is generally restricted to use by the lower social strata of the area.
A film was made in 1922 called The Straphanger.