get the hook / give the hook

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get the hook / give the hook

Post by JerrySmile » Fri Oct 10, 2008 2:13 pm


Is this to call someone off, cancel his number?


He wanted to be an actor and had already tried amateur night, imitating a Britisher who tried to tell a long story about an incident in the Khyber Pass. The Poles and Swedes booed him, and the master of ceremonies sent out the hook.

The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow, p. 48


[[Jerry, Since send out the hook is not the form in which the phrase is normally used, I've changed the title of the posting to reflect the more usual forms -- Forum Moderator]]

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by russcable » Fri Oct 10, 2008 3:52 pm

The origin of the phrase is an actual large hook like a shepherd's crook used in vaudeville shows. Someone offstage would reach out and literally pull a bad act off the stage. If you searched hard enough, I think you could find examples from old TV variety or talent shows, and some of the old Warner Bros. cartoons.

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by trolley » Fri Oct 10, 2008 4:29 pm

To "get the hook" or "give someone the hook" is still a fairly common phrase around here to describe being removed due to poor performance. If your boss fires you or you get benched by your coach, you have gotten the hook. The Vaudvillian tradition of physically dragging someone off with a large wooden hook seems a little "over the top". They could have just dropped the curtain, but I guess the hook was part of the entertainment. It also allowed for some audience participation as they cried out for the hook. If there's any truth in old cartoons (and there usually is), the actor could also be dropped unceremoniously through the floor via a trap door.

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Oct 10, 2008 6:39 pm

Does this link ... g=PA524&dq help?
I'm not sure if you meant you couldn't see the link I posted, so I have opened it.
Last edited by Bobinwales on Sun Oct 12, 2008 11:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by JerrySmile » Fri Oct 10, 2008 7:33 pm

Thank you all.

Couldn't see that link, for whatever reasons. BTW, I did a search at Google Books before posting, probably not for right keywords.

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Oct 14, 2008 9:11 am

Jerry, Better late than never, maybe!

I love the imagery on this one. I found the standard expressions listed under both GIVE THE HOOK and GET THE HOOK with the meaning and origin as described above.

Here is the conglomerate definition from a few different sources:

GET/GIVE THE HOOK: To have one's performance abruptly terminated; to be fired; to receive or be subjected to dismissal or rejection; to be ejected [the long pole or hook used to drag unpopular performers off stage; introduced in 1903 at Harry Minor’s Bowery Theatre, New York City] [[Note: Cassell's got the name wrong, it should be Harry Miner’s Bowery Theater]]

Here is one of the more interesting accounts of the earliest use of the expression:

FACTS ON FILE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS GET THE HOO: A defunct journal named The Actors Fan Bulletin (1931) gave the first use of the phrase. “At Miner’s Bowery Theater in New York were presented the first amateur nights in burlesque. Here the aspirants for footlight fame were given the opportunity to show their goods. The audience was at liberty to give full expression to their approval or dislike to the offerings of the contestants for the prizes. One Friday night, in October 1903, at Miner’s Bowery, a particularly bad amateur was inflicting an impatient audience an impossible tenor solo. Despite howls, groans and cat-calls, the artist persisted in staying on, when Tom Miner [[should read Harry Miner]], who was running the show, chanced to see a large old-fashioned crook-handled cane which had been used by one of the Negro impersonators. Quickly he had Charles Guthinger, the stage manager, lash it to a long pole. With this, he stepped to the wings without getting into sight of the audience, deftly slipped the hook around the neck of the singer and yanked him off the stage before he knew what happened. The next amateur was giving an imitation when a small boy yelled, ‘Get the hook!’ The audience roared and the actor fled in dismay.” Many later stars including Fanny Brice, Joe Cook, and George White endured the ordeal of the hook.

GIVE THE HOOK: Amateurs competing in early vaudeville talent nights were sometimes difficult to coax off the stage no matter how unfavorably the audience reacted to their performances. In order to prevent egg and tomato damage to their theater, all obstinate hams were yanked offstage and into the wings before the audience got violent. The instrument used was a long pole with a hook on the end, which inspired the expression to give the hook. Today the phrase is used to describe anyone fired for incompetence.

But as wonderful as the above 1931 account sounds, it was written 25 years after the fact, so I wouldn't get too excited over the precise details or even if the expression first appeared in 1903 at the said location. Lexicographer Barry Popik, acclaimed for his meticulous research and chronicling of the American language (contributor-consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, etc.), said that the evidence he uncovered couldn't confirm that THE HOOK was born in 1903 at Harry Miner’s Bowery Theater:
<2004 “‘The hook’ was reportedly introduced in 1903 at Harry Miner's Bowery Theater in New York City. Miner's was famous for its ‘amateur nights,’ where novice performers could take to the stage. I can't confirm that ‘the hook’ began at Miner's in 1903, but here are some citations.”—, 5 December>
Below, I have indicated which quotes are Popik's and I have expanded upon some of these by going back to the original source to provide more context. My first three quotes predate Popik’s earliest find of September 27,1906, and I look forward to accepting my award from the ATS (American Trivia Society). (<;)
<1905 “Small Boys Began to Shout ‘GET THE HOOK.’. . . As the convention of the Holy Jumpers grows older, the attendance increases, fully 300 men, women and boys being present at last evenings service. Brother C. L. Harvey preached last night. . . ‘The best educated person in the world today is the devil. Look out for him; he may be sitting at your side, or he may meet you as you leave this hall tonight.’ This last remark caused the delegates to groan and shout ‘God help us,’ while the audience began to shirt uneasily. ‘The way you live today,’ he said ‘is the way you will go to heaven or hell when you die.’ He had been speaking about ten minutes when some of the small boys began to shout, ‘GET THE HOOK.’ Brother Harvey at this point closed his address.”—Boston Globe, 23 December, page 1>

<1905 “No association game ever played in South Boston equaled in roughness the game between the Maley A. C. and the South Boston high second team . . . At all stages the players were mixing it up, the Maleys being the aggressors. Toward the end of the game the spectators cried ‘GET THE HOOK’ because the match had developed into a rough and tumble specialty.”—New York Times, 28 December, page 9>

<1906 “The election of water commissioner will probably come up at the next meeting of the city council . . . Anyhow, the meeting comes up on the twenty-third and Dr. S. F. A. Pickering informed the Herald man this . . . morning that he would GET THE HOOK on the twenty-third.”—Portsmouth Herald (New Hampshire),19 May, page 8> [[This predates Popik’s find below by a whopping 4 months!]]

<1906 “‘Mr. Osborne [
] referred to Mr. Dix as a descendent of one of the most illustrious families in the history of the state of New York [blah, blah blah]], Get the hook,’ yelled a delegate. Chairman Nixon appealed in vain for order. ‘I propose to be heard if I stay here all night,’ declared Mr. Osborne.”—New York Times, 27 September, page 2> [[Popik’s earliest quote is indicated in blue. I have expanded on this and have corrected a typo where he substituted ‘cried’ for ‘yelled.’]]

<1907 “Hissed Off the Stage by Angry Irishmen — 300 Go to Hammersteins to Stop a Caricature of Their Race . . . Hardly had the curtain gone up on the sketch of the Russell Brothers, who portray comic Irish servant girls, when screams and catcalls arose from the orchestra and galleries. In all parts of the house men arose, shouting, ‘Take 'em off’ ‘Get the hook,’ ‘Away with 'em,’ ‘They're rotten.’”—New York Times, 25 January, page 3> [[Popik’s quote is indicated in blue]]

<1908 “Has the slang of ‘get the hook’ reached you? It originated with the ‘amateur nights’ in vaudeville, when aspirants are tried and usually found wanting. Sometimes the stage manager reached out with a hooked pole to pull the worst of them in. After the Washington start of ‘Miss Hook of Holland,’ one word in the title took on pertinency, for Frohman ‘got the hook’ and jerked the principal two comedians out of it.”—Chicago Daily Tribune, 12 January, page B3> [[Popik’s quote]]

<1929 “AMATEUR NIGHT IS NO MORE; EVEN ITS NAME IS CHANGED. But Some New Yorkers Can Still Remember Audiences Shouting for ‘THE HOOK’. . . It is a question whether the ‘hook’ started at Miner's or White's Atheneum - or somewhere else. The ‘hook,’ a long pole topped with a strong wire loop, was kept in a convenient corner off stage and few amateurs escaped its merciless pressure. GIVE HIM THE HOOK! was a famous expression, shouted vociferously by displeased listeners when thrown vegetables failed to clear the stage. Often the management knew that some of the acts were terrible, and booked them for no other purpose than to bring THE ‘HOOK’ into play and get a laugh from the audience.”—New York Times, 17 February, page 138> [[Popik’s quote]]

<1932 “‘Did they yell “GET THE HOOK”?’ I asked. ‘SAY,’ he answered, ‘that was long before the expression came into vogue. In those days, if an act did not please the audience and they booed, the scene shifters would close the wings on it. On one wing would be a large N and on the other a large G.’”—New York Times, 4 September, page SM8> [[Popik’s quote]]

<1937 “. . . I was a kid of 16. Discouraged, broke and hungry, I decided to make the first dollar in many weeks by appearing at Miner's Bowery Theater on an amateur program. This really took nerve, because in those days a Bowery audience was more likely to holler, ‘GIVE 'IM THE HOOK,’ than to shout, ‘Bravo.’”— Eddie Cantor Looks Back on 25 Years in Theater in in Washington Post, 17 October, page T1> [[Popik’s quote]]

<1975 “Now, amateur night got to be a football game. In Boston, ‘GET THE HOOK! [[figuratively]] at Gaiety Theatre was, GET THE HOOK!’ [[literally]]. You'd see an old woman out there singin' . . . ‘Is there any souls in heaven . . . ,’ and they’d holler ‘HOOK! HOOK! Pretty soon they decided to make gags out of this . . . , like I would go do an old woman, just to GET THE HOOK.”—Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3, Popular Theatre, October, page 332-333> [[Interview with Steve Mills (born 1895) who began as a candy butcher (a walking vendor who sold sweets) in burlesque theaters, graduated to an amateur singer there in 1910, and whose 65 years in show business was closely associated with burlesque.]]

<1985 “. . . at the end of the summer, the final gathering . . .is a festive poetry reading in which everybody gets three minutes to recite their own poetry. . . . Enforcing the rule was the Official Timer, a student standing near the podium with a stop watch and a shepherd’s crook. As the time limit approached, there was a gentle tapping on the floor, increasing in pace and volume until, with shouts of ‘GET THE HOOK,’ violators were unceremoniously pulled from the stage.”—Rhetoric Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, September> [[this summer writing program founded by Alan Ginsberg in 1974 is held each year at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado]]

<2000-2008 “(silent film) Amateur Night; or, GET PUT THE HOOK; AKA {Amateur Night; or, GET THE HOOK} American, B&W: 500 feet, Directed by (unknown), Cast: (unknown). The Vitagraph Company of America production; distributed by The Vitagraph Company of America. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. / The film was first advertised in trades or reviewed in April 1907.”—at> [[Popik’s quote]]

<2002 “The criteria are spelled out in eight questions the grantees have to answer during the site review . . . and those who don’t have good answers GET THE HOOK.”—Science, New Series, Vol. 296, No. 5572, 24 May, page 1390>

<2005 “Whorehouse Days in Gilbert GET THE HOOK: . . . business owners in a tiny . . . town [Gilbert] decided to call their new summer festival Whorehouse Days [[a reference to its notorious early days]], . . . Offended by the word ‘whorehouse,’ local residents mounted a loud backlash against the festival and recently spurred Gilbert City Council members to kill the two-day bash.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 7 July>

<2008 “While Runde said the Dubuque County Jail doesn't have a specific banned list, any publication administrators deem disruptive can GET THE HOOK.”—Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque, Iowa), 28 March>
Ken – October 13, 2008

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Oct 14, 2008 9:33 am


Would you care to comment on the accuracy of the statement, "Roses are red, violet's blue"?

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Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by PhilHunt » Tue Oct 14, 2008 10:12 am

Following on from this discussion of 'get the hook'; does the expression 'let off the hook' come from the vaudevillian tradition or is it an allusion to letting a fish off a fisherman's hook?
Signature: That which we cannot speak of, must be passed over in silence...or else tweeted.

Re: get the hook / give the hook

Post by Tony Farg » Tue Oct 14, 2008 2:29 pm

It's all an allusion.

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