phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Sling your hook

Posted by Ian Ramsay on February 23, 2008 at 10:02:

In Reply to: Re: Sling your hook posted by Smoke;y Stover on February 22, 2008 at 14:11:

: : Re. "sling your hook" being a dockers phrase?: I had always understood that it was a sailors phrase. The "hook" being the anchor which when hauled up was catted, tied or slung, to the cathead to stop it swinging about freely with the motion of the ship. The ship could then move off. Hence to "sling your hook" meant to move off or go away. Any thoughts?

: Youar idea is plausible, if you accept that every puzzling expression must be of nautical or agricultural origin. The Oxford English Dictionary gives many meanings for "hook," and recognizes the phrase, "sling one's hook." The examples cited, however, suggest that the hook in question is something one carries with him, and no one is likely to carry an anchor about. I know that one use of "sling" is to sling something over one's shoulder, but that's more specific than any of the examples cited. Here's a couple (from among several more).

: 1890 KIPLING Barrack-Room Ballads 34 Before you sling your 'ook, at the 'ousetops take a look. 1892 'F. ANSTEY' Mr. Punch's Model Music-Hall Songs 130 Take your 'ook while you can.

: Add also two of those listed s.v. sling:

: 1874 Slang Dict. 295 Sling your hook, a polite invitation to move-on. 1897 Daily News 1 Sept. 2/2 If you don't sling yer hook this minute, here goes a pewter pot at yer head.

: In none of the examples cited for either word, sling or hook, is there the least nautical suggestion.
: SS

Of course I don't accept that every puzzling expression MUST be nautical etc. in origin. And, unfortunately, I don't have time to research the matter - but I still think, on balance, that the nautical origin is, indeed, more plausible.

Many undoubted nautical expressions arise fron the 'glory days' of the Royal Navy during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Such was the fame of the RN that the use of sailors slang conferred a kind of 'kudos by association' upon the user, even if they were mere landsmen. I note the examples of usage that you quote date from 70 - 80 years after this period, when the origin of the phrase may already have been forgotten by most users.

The fact that use of the phrase was already widespread also, in my opinion, argues against an origin restricted to a limited group of dockers in one UK port. Sailors, when their seafaring days were done, would have retuned to many towns and villages around the UK, including many inland, and so the use of the phrase would have become widespread.

Also, it seems to me that dockers, being turned away by employers, would simply have been told to leave or go home rather than 'sling your hook' which doesn't necessarily imply movement - someone might have their hook slung over their shoulder whilst standing still. On the other hand a ship once it's anchor or 'hook' had been slung was going to move, whether by deliberate navigation or by simply drifting. In the 'nautical origin' version the implication of movement, and especially deliberate movement away from the present location, is clear and undoubted.

As for there being no obvious nautical connection in any of the cited examples; many people use expressions without having the least idea where they originally came from. Are 'taken aback' or 'nipper' or 'by and large' or 'gone by the board' or even 'loose cannon' obviously nautical in origin?

I still feel that the nautical origin is more plausible in every way than the docker origin. However, I do not assert it as fact and I wait to be corrected.