Off the wall

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Tue Jun 1 03:55:01 UTC 2004

There are two different "off the hooks," so to speak. The fishing one
has to do primarily with getting out of a tight. (In BE, it's not
necessary to add "spot" or some such after "tight"). "The note from my
wife got me off the hook." The other, hip-hop one is derived from
phrases like, "The telephone has been ringing _off the hook_ all day"
because something really important is happening and you need to know
about it, so you can get the hook-up.


On May 31, 2004, at 11:37 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Off the wall
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> At 11:24 PM -0400 5/31/04, Wilson Gray wrote:
>> FWIW, the late, great blues harpist, Marion Walter "Little Walter"
>> Jacobs, recorded an instrumental with the title, "Off The Wall," on
>> March 4, 1953 at the Chess Records studio in Chicago.
>> Contemporaneously, the phrase, "off the wall," became hip among
>> blacks.
>> We used it as a general pejorative with the meanings "lame, uncool,
>> unhip, countrified, stupid, fucked up," etc. In fact, we "old heads"
>> still use it with these meanings. I've long wondered whether the slang
>> term was derived from the song title or the song title was inspired by
>> the slang phrase. Normally, a song would become popular and contribute
>> new words and/or phrases to the vocabulary of slang. But "Off The
>> Wall," being an instrumental, had no words, except for its title. And
>> there's the mystery as to why this neutral phrase came to be used only
>> as a pejorative, given that a very similar phrase, "off the hook," is
>> used only as a meliorative.
> How similar is it?  I assume "off the hook" is a reference to
> fishing, while that's not involved in "off the wall".
> Larry

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