What Does Off the Hook Mean?

Off the Hook Meaning

Definition: Free from some responsibility; removed from some difficulty.

Off the hook is also a dated phrase to indicate that something is cool, fun, or enjoyable.

Origin of Off the Hook

This expression started to increase in popularity in the mid-1800s but may have existed since the 1700s. The term on the hook dates back to the 17th century, and off the hook became popular sometime after that.

To understand the meaning behind this idiom, imagine that you are a fish, and you try to eat a fat, juicy worm All of a sudden, you are trapped on a fishhook. You struggle to escape, and luckily you free yourself from the hook. You are literally off the hook, and free from that difficulty.

The analogy in this phrase is that of a fish being set free from the fisherman. In other words, the fish got off the hook.

Figurative senses of the word were used by the mid-1800s. An early example being Anthony Trollope’s 1864 The Small House at Allington:

  • Poor Caudle…he’s hooked, and he’ll never get himself off the hook again.

In a figurative sense, if a boss or parent has someone on the hook, that person is trapped into some duty. If that person is off the hook, it means they are no longer under an obligation to perform that duty.

Examples of Off the Hook

what is off the hookHere is an example of a teacher using the expression in a math class.

Teacher: Ronald, it’s your turn to answer. Did you solve problem number 17?

Ronald: Er…Um….

Teacher: Well, come on. Tell us your answer.

Ronald: Well, you see…

Teacher: Stop stalling and answer.

(the bell rings, signaling the end of class)

Teacher: Ah, well, you got lucky. You’re off the hook for today. However, make sure you know the answer for the next class.

being off the hookIn this example, two friends are discussing an upcoming move that one of them is making.

Monica: I am so excited to move to a new house! Can you help me pack up my things and move my furniture to my new place?

Janice: Oh, I wish I could, but I’m attending a wedding that weekend. It’s out of town.

Monica: Darn. Oh well. I guess you’re off the hook! I’ll have to find someone else to help me.

More Examples

This excerpt uses the expression in an article about a football coach leaving his team.

  • In a rare move, Andersen also agreed to waive his contractually guaranteed compensation through 2021, letting the university off the hook for more than $12.3 million, according to USA Today. –Denver Post

The second excerpt is from an article about housing affordability.

  • It just lets the bad actors off the hook and forces workers to turn to trial attorneys to recoup their wages from the general contractor instead of their employer. –OC Register


The idiom off the hook means no longer obligated to do something.