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Sling your hook

Posted by Dennis on March 10, 2006

Sling your hook

There seems to be confusion and misunderstanding about this phrase, so I thought I'd clear it up. I know because I've lived in Liverpool and met and drank with many old dockers whose fathers and grandfathers were all dockers and who were a mine of useful information like this.

It is a dockers phrase from the industrial revolution in the early 1800s in places like East London, Liverpool and Portsmouth. Much of the trade coming into these ports were in bales, especially bales of cotton and wool (Britain made 80% of the worlds cloth at the time). It was common practice for Dockers to have hooks in which they would impale the bales in order to make them easier to carry. Work was given out daily on an ad hoc basis depending on how many ships were in port and what cargo they were carrying. Queues of dockers would form, and when all the days jobs were allocated, the remaining dockers were told to 'Sling your Hook', or 'Sling yer 'ook', as in 'Throw away your hook or put it over your shoulder and leave, there's no work for you today'.

An interesting collaquialism offshoot of this is that in Liverpool during the first dockers strikes, labour drafted in from outside Liverpool used to carry the bales on their backs, as they had no hooks to carry them with. Henceforth, anyone in Liverpool who speaks with a 'funny' accent (i.e. not a scouse accent) is known as a 'Woolyback'.

Is any more proof needed?

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