What does it mean to hook up? Consulting a dictionary won't help, since most dictionaries do not even include an entry on hooking up.1 Even college students have trouble articulating a definition. My exchange with Tony, a senior at State University, demonstrates the uncertainty.
KB: Define hooking up.
Tony: Taking someone home and spending the night with them. I
mean intercourse is probably like a big part of it, but I think if
you take someone home and hook up, then that's hooking up.
KB: So, could hooking up mean just kissing?
KB: What does it usually mean?
Tony: Having sex.
KB: So most people you know when they say “hooking up” they
are having sex with somebody?
Tony: Yeah (hesitantly)… it depends who the person is, like I can
read my friends like really, really easily. Like if my one room-
mate says he “hooked up,” that means he brought a girl
home and this, that and the other thing.… But, like if other
kids tell me they hooked up, you got to ask, not pry into their
life, but it could mean a lot of things.
KB: What do you mean when you say it?
Tony: When I say “hooked up”? [I mean] that I took someone home.
KB: But, [you are] not necessarily explaining what happened?
Tony: Right, I don't like to kiss and tell [laughs].
Collectively, the college students and recent graduates with whom I spoke were able to convey the meaning of hooking up as well as the norms for following the hookup script. However, as individuals they