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Origins of sling your hook?

Posted by TheFallen on March 13, 2003

In Reply to: Getting the hook posted by James Briggs on March 13, 2003

: : : : : : A little time ago the US TV show CSI asked for help with a phrase. I've had another request from them. Can anyone help with this:

: : : : : : "I was very much hoping to get your assistance with another question. We are trying to find the origins of the term "getting the hook" or "give 'em the hook." An upcoming CSI episode takes place in a comedy club. A rather awful comedian is "given the hook" and kicked off stage. We were wondering where this phrase or action comes from. One of the writers speculated that it may have started in vaudeville."

: : : : : I'm going to have to start watching that show. I'm away from my library right now, but I'd be glad to have a look.

: : : : I believe the vaudeville explanation is correct. Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases" has this entry:

: : : : 'get the hook!' This US c.p. derives 'from the days, up to c. 1930, of amateur vaudeville contests; it was said that the managers kept a long hook in the wings to drag off incompetent but stubbornly persistent performers. Not, of course, a c.p. in those circumstances, but it is one when some guest is not succeeding in entertaining the company; sometimes extended to losing a job' (Prof. John W. Clark, 1978).

: : : GIVE THE HOOK ? ?The ?hook? here is straight out of vaudeville. In grandfather?s time, a weekly event at the local vaudeville house was Amateur Night, when local talent competed for modest prizes and an opportunity to get a start in show business. Very bad acts were hooted vehemently and, when the boos reached a peak, the manager would reach out from the wings with a long pole bearing a hook at the end and unceremoniously jerk the ham out of the limelight. Nowadays anyone who gets or is given ?the hook? is a person discharged for incompetence.? From the ?Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins? by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

: : I expect a more modern equivalent would be "being gonged".

: A not uncommon Cockney phrase used to tell someone to go away, clear off etc is "sling your hook", but pronounced "sling yer 'ook". Could this have a common origin?

I can't see why there'd be a connection between US vaudeville and cockney slang - as far as I'm aware, the tradition of hooking a performer off-stage is very much US-centric, and not known in British music hall. However, the question of the origins of "sling your hook" now takes centre-stage. Brewer's Phrase & Fable gives us this:

Hook it. Take your hook. Sling your hook.
Be off! Be off about your business! This expression amongst woodmen, reapers, etc., is equivalent to the military one, "Pack up your tatters and follow the drum."

So presumably, the hook referred to is a billhook, sickle or scythe, but it seems a little unlikely that such an agricultural idiom should have survived so predominantly in the East end of London.

A further source sums up the problem thus:

Another awkward saying is 'sling your hook', which is simply defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as 'Brit. informal leave'". Why should this phrase be used for 'leave' or 'clear off'?

Does it refer (as some suggest) to a sailor raising the ship's anchor and sailing away? Or a fisherman casting his hook into the water (although he suggests he is staying, not leaving). Or should we picture a workman (perhaps a docker or an agricultural labourer) picking up his hook (even slinging it over his shoulder) and moving on to another job?

Perhaps it refers to the practice in old music halls where the theatre manager used a long hooked pole to pull unsuccessful performers off the stage?

The OED contains evidence of sling your hook from as early as 1874, although it obscures matters further by finding the puzzling phrase 'sling your Daniel' from 1873.

"(The other theory says) the hook is one on which a miner would hang his day clothes. When he finished his shift down the pit, he would change, collect his possessions from his hook, and leave."

I suspect this is another whole nine yarder.