By hook or by crook

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"By hook or by crook" is an English phrase meaning "by any means necessary", suggesting that any means possible should be taken to accomplish a goal. The phrase is very old, first recorded in the Middle English Controversial Tracts of John Wyclif in 1380.[1][2]

The origin of the phrase is obscure, with multiple different explanations and no evidence to support any particular one over the others.[3] For example, a commonly repeated suggestion is that it comes from Hook Head in Wexford, Ireland and the nearby village of Crooke, in Waterford, Ireland. Another is that it comes from the customs regulating which firewood local people could take from common land; they were allowed to take any branches that they could reach with a billhook or a shepherd's crook (used to hook sheep).[4]

The phrase was featured in the opening credits to the 1960s British television series The Prisoner.[5] It appears prominently (as "by hook and by crook") in the short stories "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway[6] and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving.[7] It was also used as the title of a 2001 film, By Hook or by Crook, directed by Silas Howard and Harry Dodge.

In Modern English, the meaning of the phrase is often understood (or, arguably, misunderstood) as to refer more specifically to a willingness to accomplish objectives using unethical and/or illegal (as in "crooked") means.


  1. ^ Israel, Mark (29 Sep 1997). "Phrase Origins: "by hook or by crook"', The alt.usage.english FAQ file, (line 4953)". Archived from the original on 2008-02-13.
  2. ^ Arnold, Thomas (1871). Select English Works of John Wyclif (PDF). Oxford: Clarendon. p. 331.
  3. ^ Phrase Finder is copyright Gary Martin, 1996-2015. All rights reserved. "By hook or by crook".
  4. ^ "Forests and Chases of England and Wales: A Glossary".
  5. ^ "The Prisoner".
  6. ^ "The Snows of Kilimanjaro - E. Hemingway".
  7. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving".

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