By Hook or By Crook – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking to beat your competitors in a bid for a contract? You could say you’re willing to win the nomination “by hook or by crook” if you’re ready to take a few chances to achieve what you want.

This post unpacks the meaning and origin of “by hook or by crook.”

By Hook or By Crook Idiom Meaning

The meaning of “by hook or by crook” refers to achieving a goal at any cost. If you want something really bad, you could use the phrase to describe your attitude to doing whatever it takes to make it happen for yourself.

However, the phrase also has a somewhat ominous overtone, stating that you’re well in to do anything – whether that’s good or bad, to achieve that goal or target. So, it’s a term used to describe an unethical approach to attaining what you want.

Sometimes, by hook or by crook refers to doing the right thing, but in most cases, the speaker will be using a negative connotation.

By Hook or By Crook Example Usage

“We’re going to win that contract by hook or by crook; I don’t care what we have to do to land it.”

“He decided to win by hook or by crook, and that’s why he cheated at the card table.”

“We’ll get those people to comply with our directive by hook or by crook.”

“I’ll get her to date me by hook or by crook.”

“I’ll pass this exam by hook or by crook.”

“She has to have it, by hook or by crook.”

“Once he sets his mind on it, he has to have it, by hook or by crook.”

By Hook or By Crook Idiom Origin

Medieval England held a custom where the wealthy landowners would only take wood from the forest according to special instructions. The landowners would inform the peasants collecting the wood that they could only take branches they could reach using Shepard’s crook or a reaper’s bill hook.

The earliest use of the phrase comes from the work of John Gower in “Confessio Amantis.” Gower penned the piece in 1390, where he wrote the following.

“What with hope and what with croke they make her maister ofte winne.”

The phrase also appears in the 1583 work by Philip Stubbes, “Anatomie of Abuses.” The author pens the phrase,

“Either by hooke or crooke, by night or day.”

Further recognition of the use of the phrase in history goes to Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s. When Cromwell discussed the Waterford villages in Ireland, he would claim that invading forces would have to take Waterford through “Hook or by Crokke,” referring to the towns of Crooke and Hook Head flanking Waterford.

Phrases Similar to By Hook or By Crook

  • Whatever it takes.
  • Never surrender, never back down,
  • We’ll take it if they don’t give it to us.

Phrases Opposite to By Hook or By Crook

  • We’ll do it by the book.
  • We’ll follow the procedure.
  • We’ll take the high road.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Hook or by crook.

Ways People May Say By Hook or By Crook Incorrectly

You can say “hook or by crook” in social and professional settings. However, it’s not language that you would include in a speech at a professional level. The phrase refers to dishonest actions, so using it in situations to describe honesty or truthfulness wouldn’t be appropriate.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase By Hook or By Crook

When you’re using the phrase “hook or by crook,” you refer to someone’s behavior and actions. The term can also refer to organizations and companies and their approach to customers or the market. You can also use it to describe the personal efforts you intend to take.

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