Hanging From the Rafters – Meaning & Origin

If you are a sports fan, you probably hear the phrase “hanging from the rafters” from time to time. But what exactly does this phrase mean, and where does it come from?

We’re here to answer all these demanding questions, so stick around!

Hanging From the Rafters – Meaning

The phrase “hanging from the rafters” is a sports expression that literally means to hang up a sportsman’s jersey after their number has been retired. In some cases, the phrase “people/folks hanging from the rafters” is a hyperbolic expression that means a room is very crowded.


  • The phrase hanging from the rafters” has both a literal and figurative meaning.
  • The literal meaning originates from the sports practice where the jerseys of prolific sportsmen are hung up by their teams once they have retired or died.
  • You can also use this phrase figuratively to express that a room is full of people.

There are two potential meanings for this phrase – one literal and one figurative. The literal meaning has to do with the matter of retired numbers in sports.

In sports such as ice hockey, baseball, cricket, and football, teams may honor certain players who had particularly memorable careers this way.

When that player passes away or retires from the sport, their team takes the number they wore on their uniform out of circulation. Thus, no one else can wear it in the future.

The numbered jersey of that player is hung up in the team’s home arena. Henceforth, it is literally “hanging from the rafters” for all to observe as a gesture.

Figuratively, you can say that people were “hanging from the rafters.” This means a room, stadium, or auditorium is full of people.

It creates the image of people perched on support beams or rafters in the building to get a glimpse of the ongoings.

Hanging From the Rafters – Origin

There’s no real clarity regarding the etymology of the phrase “hanging from the rafters.” However, we know it originally comes from sports traditions namely, where a team hangs up and displays a player’s jersey as a sign of respect.

This tradition started with Ace Bailey, a hockey player from the Toronto Maple Leafs. His team retired his number 6 uniform in 1934.

This tradition then became the norm in other sports. In fact, it’s such a prolific tradition that the phrase “hanging from the rafters” is now used in various countries.

You might have seen this phrase in the title by Kieran Shannon. He wrote the book Hanging from the Rafters: The Story of Neptune and the Golden Age of Irish Basketball

Hanging From the Rafters – Synonyms

Since “hanging from the rafters” may be used to suggest that a room is very full, some synonyms for this phrase might be:

  • At full capacity
  • Overcrowded
  • Packed full

In What Situations Can You Use “Hanging From the Rafters”?

You can use the phrase “hanging from the rafters” figuratively. Namely, when you want to describe a room packed full of people.

It’s an exaggerative phrase, as people probably aren’t really hanging from the rafters. It just means the room was at such full capacity, they might as well have been.

You can also use this phrase in a more literal sense. In particular, it describes the sports phenomenon where the uniforms of prolific sportsmen are hung up in honor of their careers.