Where does the expression "throw the book" come from?

Where does the expression “throw the book” come from?

Two possibilities, and both may be true:

  1. A metaphor for charging a suspect with breaking “all of the rules in the book” (a hyperbole in itself).

  2. A hyperbolic expression of the judge’s severity; not only does he charge the suspect with breaking “all of the rules in the book,” he also throws the book. Akin to “everything but the kitchen sink” and its derivative, “everything including the kitchen sink.”

I heard that some guy claimed Howard Hughes had willed him his entire fortune for helping him in the middle of the desert. The defense attorney went to the library in the man’s hometown and found his fingerprints in nearly every book that had anything to do with Hughes. In court he asked “So if you’ve never read a book about Charles Hughes, then what do you call these?” And he threw the book(s) at him. Hence the saying.

Is that bullsh*t?

Yeah, that’s BS. The expression was current long before Hughes died. I don’t know much about Hughes’s probate hearings, but I do know two things: that Melvin Dummar, the gas station attendant to who your story presumably refers, didn’t get a dime; and that any attorney who threw books at a witness during a trial would find himself in jail so fast he wouldn’t get a chance to finish “But, Your Honor…”

Well after much searching I have determined this is likely the originating source of the expression:

THROW THE BOOK AT—File all possible criminal charges or give the maximum penalty.—“After all he has done, I hope the judge throws the book at him.”—Law books.—(1932). Flynn’s Weekly.


Lighter says that the expression was originally “give one the book” or “hand you the book” but the sense was the same. To give the maximum penalty(sentence). The 1908 cite was “You’ll wish they’d handed you the book and you’d been hung …”