By Charles Earle Funk, Tom Funk
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Additional resources for 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions from White Elephants to a Song & Dance
William Walker, in 1670, when com piling his Phraseologia Anglo-Latina; or Phrases of the English and Latin Tongue, included this expression in his list, probably finding it used by some earlier writer of Latin; but if so, his source is no longer known. The phrase is listed, however, by James Kelly, in 17 2 1, in his Complete Collection of Scotish Proverbs. The view that it is of Scottish origin is supported by the fact that it is to be found in the account written by Colonel Robert Monro, a doughty Scot, His Expedition with the worthy Scots Regiment called Mac-Keyes Regiment, relating to his service under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden between 162 1 and 1632.
The most plausible relates to the old forest laws of England, laws by which all forest lands of the country were the private property of the king. The sole right of the common people to enter these forests without permission was, it is said, for the removal of dead wood from the ground or dead branches from the trees; of the latter, only such branches as could be brought down "by hook or by crook," that is, by the use of no stouter instrument than a reaper's hook or a shepherd's crook. But in order to satisfy the meaning, "by fair means or foul," we must assume that some of the ancient shepherds found an excuse to tend their sheep with crooks that were exceedingly long or unusually heavy.
The British say that the original test was a custom in the American navy, but the Dictionary of American English has no record of it. " It is now obsolete in Amer ica, but its meaning was to take one's speedy departure. " This usage is recorded in Eng54 land as early as 1 842, though the original allusion cannot be ascertained. to turn turtle One must remember that "turtle" applies, scientifically speaking, to the marine member of the family, and that "tortoise" should prop erly be used to describe the land or fresh-water member.