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What Does It Mean to Accept Something "Hook, Line and Sinker"?

Jim B.
Jim B.

When someone accepts something "hook, line, and sinker," it means that the person in question has accepted it — that is, an idea or explanation — completely, without any reservations. This idiomatic phrase can be used whenever someone takes information at face value and wholly accepts it. It is often used to refer to someone who is gullible enough to fall for a practical joke or a trick played on them. "Hook, line, and sinker" is a phrase that comes from the pastime of fishing, and it refers to a fish that swallows not just the bait but also everything attached to it.

An idiom is a word or short phrase which often means something quite different from the literal interpretation of the words themselves. These phrases often originate in a very specific industry or arena but come to be used more widely. Their meanings come from the way that people in a certain culture use them and understand them, and they allow speakers to add color and expressiveness to everyday speech. One such idiom that is based on fishing terms is the phrase "hook, line, and sinker."

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

If this idiom is used, it conveys a complete belief or acceptance of something else. There is no equivocation being shown by a person who is described in this manner. In actuality, a person who merits this phrase takes something in or accepts its trustworthiness or veracity without any hesitation. For example, someone might say, "I thought he might buy just a part of the package, but instead he took the whole thing hook, line, and sinker."

Another way that the phrase is often used is as a means of depicting a certain level of gullibility. If someone is going to blindly accept whatever someone tells them, it opens that person up for all manner of deceit by others. For this reason, this idiomatic expression often comes into play when someone gets tricked or duped by someone else. In this context, consider the sentence, "That salesman was putting on a real show, and he fell for it hook, line, and sinker."

As is the case with many idioms, this phrase comes from a very specific setting and has evolved to where it can be used in many different circumstances. When someone is fishing, he or she must put the bait on a hook, weigh the hook down with a sinker under the water, and attach it to a line leading back up to the fishing pole. Any fish that takes the "hook, line, and sinker," is eating far more than just the bait.

Discussion Comments


Back in my college days, there was a guy who believed just about anything people told him. Some of us even called him "hook, line and sinker" behind his back because of his gullibility. One time I got a phone call from him, asking for a ride back to the dorm from a local car repair shop. I asked him what was wrong with his car, and he honestly said "Paul told me I needed to take my car to the shop, because my tires were spinning backwards when I put it in reverse".


When I was a kid, I grew up near the Cuyahoga river at a point when it was more of a stream. My dad taught me how to fish at a spot where another small creek fed into the Cuyahoga. He would set up the fishing pole by tying a little metal loop called a swivel to the end of the line, then attaching a hook to the swivel. He'd squeeze on a small lead sinker a few inches up from the swivel. The only thing left to do was thread a small worm onto the hook and cast it out to the middle of the river.

This is why I find the idiom "hook, line and sinker" so interesting. Some fish were so big that they would swallow the entire hook. Sometimes they would reach the swivel. I never caught one that got as far as the sinker. Maybe other fishermen put all of those things closer together than we did, but a fish would really have to commit to the bite in order to swallow everything.

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