"By Hook Or By Crook"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This proverb may have derived from the old custom of allowing peasants to gather wood from estates by means of the hook and the crook, tools then in common use. The expression dates back at least to John Wycliffe's Controversial Tracts (c. 1370); it was also used by John Hey-wood in Part I, chapter 11 of Proverbs (1546); and it has been widely used in American literature. John Skelton uses the expression in his long poem to satirize the misdeeds of the clergy, especially the higher clergy. Skelton claims to be relating what Colin Clout, a common laborer, hears people saying as he travels about the country. After recounting faults and abuses, Skelton says of the clergy, near the end of the poem:

And so it seemeth they play,
Which hate to be corrected
When they be infected,
Nor will they suffer this book
By hook ne by crook
Printed for to be.