I got to thinking about the word "hooky" and what it really means. The definition at Princeton University WordNet Web site is "truancy, failure to attend (especially school)." Well, I knew that, but why is it called hooky?
Using Google Search I found several online dictionaries that referenced the etymology of the word. It seemed to me that many of the online dictionaries are copies of each other. Most claimed that the term "play hooky (or hookey)" was derived from hook it, hook or a Dutch game played in 17th century New Amsterdam.
Since each of these dictionaries provided a list with a choice of three possible origins and no information about the source(s) of this information, I continued my quest.
I looked for dictionaries that included the etymology of words. I found the following on page 345 of Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, Volume III - Fla. to Hyps. (Compiled and edited by John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley and printed in 1893)
Hookey. To play hookey, verb. phr. (American). — To play truant; to do Charley-wag (q.v.).
1876. Clemens [Mark Twain], Tom Sawyer, p. 100. Took his flogging . . . . for playing hookey the day before.
The book did not tell me anything about the origin but it did indicate that the term was in use when Samuel Clemens wrote Tom Sawyer. I found a copy of Tom Sawyer that was published in 1875. The term used twice in Chapter 1 and twice in Chapter 10. Thus, I could confirm that playing hooky was in use by 1875.
I happened upon an article that John R. Sinnema authored entitled "The Dutch Origin of Play Hookey" (American Speech, Vol. 45, No. 3/4, Autumn-Winter 1970. Durham, NC: Duke University). He writes, "Bartlett correctly states that play hookey is a "term used among school-boys, chiefly in the State of New York," dating its appearance about 1848." [p. 205]
Mr. Sinnema indicates that Bartlett included a citation from Samuel Clemen's Mark Twain that included the phrase "playing hookey." He references John Russell Barlett's Dictionary of Americanisms, 4th ed. (1877) in a footnote on Page 205.
Luckily, I came across a copy of Dictionary of Americanisms. A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar The United States, by John Russell Bartlett. (New York: Barlett and Welford, 1848) "HOOKEY. To play hookey, is to play truant. A term used among schoolboys." appears on page 180.
So it seems that the term was in use at least by 1848 when Mr. Bartlett published his dictionary. Still there is no mention of the origin of the word. However, on page 179, Mr. Bartlett includes the following:
HOOK. (Dutch, hoek, a corner.) This name is given in New York to several angular points in the North and East rivers; as Corlear's Hook, Sandy Hook, Powle's Hook.
The definition of hook and of hookey in Bartlett's 3rd & 4th editions (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1860 & 1877) is changed a little from that in the 1848 edition.
Hook. (Dutch, hoek, a corner, a cape.) This name is given, in New York, to several angular points in the North and East Rivers; as, Corlear's Hook, Powle's Hook, Sandy Hook. [p, 201; p. 293]Hookey. To "play hookey" is to play truant. A term used amount school-boys, chiefly in the State of New York. [p. 201; p. 294]
I wasn't getting anywhere in finding the Dutch connection to playing hooky except that I found another book that seemed to be based on Bartlett's dictionaries. In 1902, Sylva Clapin published A New Dictionary of Americanisms Being a Glossary of Words supposed to Be Peculiar to the United States and the Dominion of Canada.
He published a dictionary of Canadian French in 1894. Between 1873 and 1899, Mr. Clapin lived in the US, Quebec, Paris, Montreal, and Boston. So it seems that Mr. Clapin was interested in the differences between American English and British English as well as American French and the French as spoken in France. Unfortunately as you will see in the definitions below taken from his dictionary that I was no closer to finding a connection to a colonial Dutch children's game and playing hooky.
Hook (Dutch hoek, a corner, a cape). An old word designation certain corners and angular points in the Hudson and East Rivers, as Sandy Hook, Kinderhook, etc. [p. 231]Hookey (to play). To play truant, chiefly current in State of New York, among school-boys. In England, "playing the wag." In New England, the form to hook Jack is used in preference. [p. 232]
To be continued...
PS - My husband thinks that I made up "Charley-wag" to tease him. Not so...I found Charley-wag was used 1876 in C. Hindley's Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack, p. 57.