Detail of Bayeux Tapestry: wilhelm at the fight of Hastings. Photo by Myrabella, 2013, license is granted under an imaginative Commons.

You are watching: Why is it called playing hooky


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Engraving accompanying the 1856 Mother’s Magazine story top top the risks of playing hooky, showing a young young freezing in a snowy forest


18 January 2021

One the the pleasures that researching the origin or native is analysis texts written in days previous that reflect a very different sensibility than that which we have today. Such is the instance with the origin of hooky or hookey, definition truancy, usually found in the verbal phrase to beat hooky. The nineteenth century literature is replete v lurid story of what evils have the right to befall children who skip school.

As to the beginning of this American slang word, us don’t recognize for certain, yet it has a likely origin in the prije person hoeckje, an interpretation corner, and also hoeckje spelen is come play hide-and-seek in Dutch. The word was presented to phibìc America with the Dutch nest of new Amsterdam, what is now brand-new York. In his 1865 Anthology of brand-new Netherland, Henry Murphy to write of Nicasius de Sillè, very first councilor to governor Stuyvesant that the new Netherland colony, c. 1656, saying:

It marks the simplicity that the times to review his complaints, ~ above one occasion, come the burgomasters and also schepens the the city, the the dog making dangerous assaults upon that while performing the service, that the hallooing the the ind in the streets, and also the boys play hoeckje, that is, play hide and also seek approximately the hooks or corners that the streets, come the prejudice that quiet and great order.

And a century later, Robert Carse to write of the new Amsterdam colony, saying, “boys play hoeky—pranks on each other.” this are later on writings, yet I am sure that a dutch speaker who delves into the original records from the seventeenth century colony would discover examples the dutch word being used.

Fifty year ago, researcher john Sinnema said that hooky endured in the slang of institution children, transforming in an interpretation over the years, perhaps affected by the feeling of to hook meaning to steal, and coming to average to play the truant. The idea is plausible, yet the lengthy gap between the dutch colony and also the term’s following recorded figure in the mid nineteenth century rather militates against it.

In any kind of case, hooky provides its means into English publishing by 17 June 1842 in the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

For it is a reality that “men are but children that a bigger growth.” “When ns was a child, ns spake together a child,” &c., “but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”—That is, if we rightly understand the language, he no longer drove the hoop, shooting marbles, flyed kites, (not also after the wall Street fashion,) pursued birds’ nests, play “hookey,” and also chased butterflies, with eyes nearly beginning from your sockets v excitement, and his long, silken tresses streaming in the breeze (for the was not the practice to plunder the children’s top of your beautiful locks in those days.)

There is this march 1846 “advertisement” in the Common college Journal. I location “advertisement” in scare quotes because the item is almost certainly a joke and also not a real advertisement because that a teacher’s services:

ADVERTISEMENT. — Mr. Starling respecktfully caution his patterns and the publick the he is a going to teach a scool in this city in the branches that learning and the scolars will discover there own publications as will certainly be fine used other than them the plays hookey will be licked with the strap, — 8 cut for a huge boy, and 5 cut for a tiny one. For more infarmation, inquire the Mr. Prass the sope biler whose darter gut she edication as above. N. B. — wanted a plaice come board with washing and also a bed all to hisself. EBEN STARLING, JUN. Balt. Sat. Visiter.

And man Russell Bartlett records the ax in his 1848 Dictionary that Americanisms, making it clear the the term was rather usual by the time it very first sees print:

HOOKEY. To play hookey, is come play truant. A term used among schoolboys.

A use from one 1856 worry of Mother’s Magazine gives a slightly different an interpretation of play hooky, the is no coming straight home after school and also instead obtaining into mischief. The article, titled “The Comforts of play Hookie,” in its opening refers to the accompanying picture of a boy lost in a snowy forest, far from home, and details to die a horrible fatality on account the disobeying his mother:

Have you any kind of sympathy through this poor boy? Do any type of of you watch your own likeness here? carry out you remember once you strayed away, after school, to have actually a slide, or a skating, top top the pond, knowing all the while that your mother was expecting girlfriend home? carry out you psychic how, when it was near dark, and the snow started to autumn thick and heavy, you started on your method home, fifty percent frozen, dissatisfied with yourself, and also ready to cry through vexation, without finding everyone to be vexed with however yourself? climate you started to wish you had gone straight home native school

The distinction in meaning may it is in the an outcome of the slang term being offered in slightly various ways by various communities, or possibly the adult author and also editors did no quite know the children’s slang term.

One more lurid tale before we leave it. An 1868 story by mar Prescott tells of young Tommy, that skips school, falls in v a poor lot, it s okay arrested because that fighting, and also narrowly escapes having to phone call his mother when one more woman, mistaking him for her own son, rescues him from jail:

But if there space obstacles in the way of being a good boy, he soon discovered that to be a poor boy was not to live in clover; for he to be hardly a rod from the door as soon as his mother dubbed out the he had forgotten his satchel, and he need to needs go earlier for it! What walk a boy who was going to play truant want of a satchel? but still he had to traction it in addition to him all the same.

By and also by he fell in v some various other schoolboys, few of whom had actually had permission to remain away, if others, choose himself, were taking it. This motivated Tommy mightily. I"m not certain but he would have ended by going to school, after all, if he hadn"t collapse in v them.

“Brought your satchel along,” said one of them; “what a greeny you are, Tommy " If the master should occur to check out you, he"d recognize in a minute that you were play hooky.”

The story proceeds with Tommy, fallout’s under the bad influence that the other boys, gift arrested before eventually being went back to the loving embrace of his mother, narrowly staying clear of going down the route to a life that crime. Together is what can befall the truant, at least in the imaginings the nineteenth-century parents and also editors.

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In any type of case, by the second half of the nineteenth century, hooky was a well developed term in the vocabulary the both children and adults.