I'm looking for info on how this idioms origin was documented to the USA? Can I grammatically eliminate any tie to the german book listed below. Could a latin spanish or Russian form translate well enough to our non literal meaning ? Malleus Maleficarum, (Latin for "Hammer of The Witches) was an infamous witch-hunting manual written in 1486 by two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. It was used by both Catholics and Protestants[17] for several hundred years, outlining how to identify a witch, what makes a woman more likely than a man to be a witch, how to put a witch on trial, and how to punish a witch. The book defines a witch as evil and typically female. This book was not given the official Imprimatur of the Catholic Church, which would have made it approved by church authorities, but was used by the Inquisition nevertheless.

  • But Grand Inquisitors didn't beat their victims about the head with a copy of Malleus Maleficarum - they forced them into the comfy chair and beat them with cushions. Jan 2 '14 at 16:28
  • By "was documented to the USA" do you mean "is documented in the USA"? Jan 2 '14 at 16:37
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    I am baffled by your question. I have always assumed that "throw the book at" means "charge with every offense in the law book", and didn't have anything to do with the Malleus Maleficarum. Do you have any indication that it does? Jan 2 '14 at 16:40

The origin of the phrase is well documented in the OED. It started with the slang phrase used by American prisoners "doing the book", meaning serving the maximum time for a given offense (presumably because the maximum time is the one specified in the law book).

1928 R. J. Tasker Grimhaven (1929) I'm doing one life jolt, and two one-to-fiftys..—yes sir, doing the book.

This then was generalized to "throwing the book at", meaning sentencing criminals to the maximum time for their offence.

1932 Flynn's 6 Feb. The prosecuting attorney..determined to try to get the trial judge to ‘throw the book’ at him, (which means give him the limit).

This then mutated into meaning: to charge someone with every possible (applicable) crime in the law book.

1961 J. Heller Catch-22 (1962) He was formally charged with ‘breaking ranks while in formation, felonious assault, indiscriminate behaviour, mopery, high treason, provoking, being a smart guy, listening to classical music, and so on’. In short, they threw the book at him.


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