Off the hook

Off the hook is an idiom with two, distinct meanings. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine both definitions of the idiom off the hook, where they came from, and some examples of their use in sentences.

The first and oldest meaning of the phrase off the hook is to be relieved of some responsibility, to extricate yourself from some difficulty, to be allowed to wash your hands of a circumstance. This figurative meaning of the phrase off the hook has been in use since the mid-1800s and is based upon the imagery of a worm on a fishing hook. If a worm can get himself off the hook, he is saved from being eaten.

A newer meaning of the idiom off the hook comes from American rap music and culture. In this case, off the hook is used to describe something that is exciting, out of control, cool, or something that executed extremely well. This definition of off the hook is often used when describing a performance or a party.


That doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is off the hook. (The Pacific STandard Magazine)

Hartford is off the hook in terms of paying back money the city borrowed for infrastructure projects and other reasons because of a deal struck two years ago where the state agreed to pay off the city’s $550 million in general obligation debt. (The Hartford Courant)

In the lodge, there was off-the-hook-good ramen and taiyaki fish waffles stuffed with red bean paste, matcha crème and custard. (The Salt Lake City Weekly)

DJ Jodie Harsh tweeted: Fran Cutler’s birthday party was off the hook.  (The Daily Mail)

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