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What Does the Phrase "Playing Hooky" Mean?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 23, 2024
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The phrase playing hooky generally refers to a person who skips school or work without a valid excuse, such as illness or an emergency. It may refer to an adult or child. When a school-aged child is caught playing hooky repeatedly, he may be referred to as a truant. Other phrases for missing school or work without an acceptable excuse are absent without leave and playing hooky-crooky.

Although the origin of the term "playing hooky" is not exactly known, there is speculation as to how the phrase became known. The phrase may have been derived from a slang expression known as hooking, which means to rob or take something without permission. Someone who is playing hooky, therefore, is thought to be taking a day off without permission.

Adults and children often play hooky for various reasons. Some want to ditch class or work to attend to some other business or leisure activity. When a person decides to play hooky, he may feign illness to stay home or go elsewhere.

Many times, workers simply do not want to go to work or wish to have an unscheduled day off. When this happens, playing hooky may be a matter of making up a believable excuse to tell the boss. One of the most common excuses heard for getting out of work is pretending to have a stomach virus. Family emergencies are other popular excuses that people give to a boss. Bosses often hear stories from employees telling of a spouse or other family member having an accident or illness that prevents the employee from coming to work.

Playing hooky can result in unfavorable consequences. School children who ditch classes may have difficulty keeping up with their school work. Some students may receive failing grades due to missed school days. Adults who miss many work days will lose hourly wages and may face a formal reprimand from a boss. More serious consequences may occur, such as dismissal from employment.

There are valid reasons for taking an occasional day off from work that are not due to illness or emergencies. Many employers recognize the need to recharge and take a day off, and this is often referred to as a mental health day. Not every employer follows this practice, however.

Parents or guardians of children who miss school days without permission are held responsible. In some regions, parents of children who are truant may face legal ramifications. Some parents may face incarceration if the child has a long history of truancy.

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Discussion Comments
By gravois — On Feb 07, 2012

Everyone once in a while I will play hookey from work. I will call in and tell my boss that I am sick and then spend the day at the zoo or relaxing in a park with a good book. I always seem to get the urge on the first really nice day of the spring.

I know it is kind of dishonest but it is only for one day and I usually come back really refreshed. I also know that I am not the only person doing this. Playing hookey from work is as old as working.

By Ivan83 — On Feb 06, 2012

I used to get into a lot of trouble for playing hooky when I was a kid in school. It seems like just about once a week I would get busted for not being at school. More often than not I was down at the pool hall working my way through rack after rack of balls.

I never did care much about school but I had a burning passion for pool. It was the first thing I thought of in the morning and teachers, tests and detentions were just about the last. Looking back I wish that I would have played hooky a few less times. I probably would have learned more. Playing pool was a lot of fun but it never did me any good in life.

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