Off the Hook (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Off the Hook"?

The term "off the hook" means no longer responsible for something or no longer selected for something.

When referring to a telephone, "off the hook" means that the telephone is not in its cradle and is therefore offline. In American rap culture, it has a meaning similar to beyond excellent, like "off the scale."

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Off the Hook (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Jack will lead on the next project. You're off the hook.
  • If the CCTV shows that I wasn't in the photocopier room, then I must be off the hook.
  • My wife has decided to go to the cinema, so I'm off the hook with tonight's tango lessons.
  • I couldn't reach you. Was your phone off the hook?
  • (In this example, it means the phone was offline.)
  • That performance was off the hook, man!
  • (Here, it means "off the scale.")
The first meaning of "off the hook" given has been used since the mid-1800s. It is used figuratively as it refers to a worm escaping from a fishing hook. Clearly, a worm that wriggles off the hook saves itself from being eaten. The worm's escape is a metaphor for not being next in line.

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