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 one need not be concerned with morality or other considerations when accomplishing some goal. The phrase is very old, first recorded in the Middle English text Controversial Tracts by John Wyclif in 1380.[1]

The origin of the phrase is obscure, with multiple different explanations and no evidence to support any particular one over the others.[2] For example, a commonly repeated suggestion is that it comes from Hook Head in Wexford, Ireland and the nearby village of Crook, 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.[3] The word crook has a connotation of crookedness, perversity and wickedness, while hook might suggest subtlety, deceit, cunning, chicanery, or trickery.

One origin story of "by hook or by crook" involves Loftus Hall in Co.Wexford. At the time it was known as Redmond Hall and it soon came to the attention of Oliver Cromwell. After two failed attempts to lay siege on the mansion, Cromwell devised a plan that would involve the use of one of either two ports, Hook Head or Crook. Cromwell insisted "we will take this house, by hook or by crook".

The phrase was famously featured in the opening credits to the 1960s British television series The Prisoner.[4] It also appears prominently (as "by hook and by crook") in the short stories "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway[5] and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving.[6]


  1. ^ Israel, Mark (29 Sep 1997). "Phrase Origins: "by hook or by crook"', The alt.usage.english FAQ file, (line 4953)". 
  2. ^ Phrase Finder is copyright Gary Martin, 1996-2015. All rights reserved. "By hook or by crook". 
  3. ^ "Forests and Chases of England and Wales: A Glossary". 
  4. ^ "The Prisoner". 
  5. ^ "The Snows of Kilimanjaro - E. Hemingway". 
  6. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving". 

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