The state of a telephone line that allows dialing and transmission but prohibits incoming calls from being answered. The phone is off-hook when the handset is lifted off the base of a stationary phone or when Talk is pressed on a portable phone.
The term stems from the days when the handset rested on an actual hook. When it was removed, a spring caused contacts to press together, closing the circuit from the telephone to the switchboard in the central office (CO). When a handset is placed back on the base, it is said to be "on-hook," and the phone can receive a call. See central office
There Really Was a Hook
The hook on this Kellogg telephone (circa 1899) was attached to a spring. When the handset was removed, the contacts inside completed the circuit between the telephone and the central office.