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Off the hook

Posted by R. Berg on June 20, 2001

In Reply to: Off the hook posted by P. Frymier on June 20, 2001

: I work with graduate students from all over the world and frequently use idioms and phrases that I need to define. I used the phrase "off the hook" today in a discussion but want to check my assumption of the origin of this phrase.

: I have assumed that this comes from the fact that meat in processing plants is hung on "meat hooks" suspended from a rack to facilitate moving the heavy carcasses. To be "on the hook" would certainly be a painful position, so that being "off the hook" would be a relief. Therefore, "off the hook" could be used to indicate being removed from a painful situation.

: Can anyone verify this in any way? I searched the archives and did not find anything, but I just stumbled across this resource a couple of days ago.

My reference books don't explicitly give an origin for "off the hook," but the second definition of "on the hook" in the Dict. of Amer. Slang is suggestive:

"To be tempted or ensnared; esp. to be too intrigued by, eager for, or involved in something, to withdraw from or ignore or refuse it. Fig., to be hooked or on the hook in the same way a fish is immediately before being caught."