Origin of 'off the hook'?

I first heard “off the hook” meaning “totally wild” or “out of control (in a good way)” a few years ago. (Example: “We’re hiring bellydancers and fire jugglers for the party – it’s going to be off the hook.”)
Like so much innovative American language, it seemed to arise from the African-American community. But it puzzled me, since “off the hook” already means something else, along the lines of “no longer responsible for” as in, “I did the dishes, so you’re off the hook.”
I wonder if the etymology of this (new) expression has something to do with the idea of a meter (like something showing dBs) rocketing so high so quickly that it flies off its “hook”? That’s just a guess. If anyone has the actual source of the term, I’d love to hear it.






2 responses to “Origin of 'off the hook'?”

  1. johnny Avatar

    I always thought that “off the hook” was related to the telephone. Your phone can be off the hook. I don’t know if that really makes sense, but that is what i assumed.

  2. jocelyn Avatar

    Fredrick Douglas, famous slave who escaped slavery and wrote several books refered to a hook that was placed on the wall for the purpose of whipping slaves.
    First the overseer or master would bind the slave’s hands and then they would be hung from this hook, so that their feet dangled. Then they would be beaten on their bear skin until there was no part that had not been cut by the whip.
    After that they were taken “off the hook”.