I have to hit the books tonight, that is I have to study for school.

According to the sources I could find online the saying “hit the books” has no clear origin. The more common assumptions refer to older sayings like hit the rail or hit the road from which hit the books probably derived. Its earliest usages are from mid-20th c.

Are there more plausible and possibly documented origins of the this saying?

  • 4
    Not sure I'd have bothered to remember this one even if I have heard it before. But it looks to me like pretty transparent riffing off hit the hay / sack (not to mention hit the bottle, hit the town,...), which could well have been "re-coined" hundreds or thousands of times. I can't see it needs any more of an "origins" story than that. Nov 18 at 11:44
  • 2
    ...the earliest written instance I can find with this sense is Princeton Alumni Weekly (1920) - Am rested up from the Christmas excitement and find it a relief to hit the books and get on the good old Tech schedule of 16 hours a day Nov 18 at 11:51
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth: How does hit the nail on the head come from archery? This is a typical page from what I could find. No mention of archery. Nov 18 at 15:45
  • 1
    The metaphor is group- and task-oriented. Hit the X means, roughly, 'join us in attacking X', where X might be a job, a game, a battle, an upcoming exam (hit the books means 'study', so it's not always group-oriented), or an upcoming pleasant event (hit the town/the shore/the bars). This is not to be confused with hit on, which is a different idiom altogether. Nov 18 at 15:46
  • 1
    Hit the... isn't group oriented. Certainly it would be ok to say "I'm going to hit the sack" and go off to bed while everyone else is still up. "Hit the road" is often used as an instruction to a single person to leave town. And "hit the books" is similar - it's very commonly used by a single person, because at college most work is done on one's own.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 18 at 16:29


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