over a barrel

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1912 illustration of an inmate being punished in an American prison

Prepositional phrase[edit]

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.