Hold Up! That Suspect is ‘Holed Up’

It’s one of those phrases we don’t hear that often, and one we write even less often, so whenever we hear of someone hiding from authorities and we decide to write about it, are we supposed to use hold up or holed up?

Back in January, a terrible story broke in Alabama: a gunman boarded a school bus, shot the driver and kidnapped one of the children. He then took the child to an underground bunker, holding him hostage for days while police tried to figure out a way to keep the situation from ending in another tragedy.

Various news reports on the situation referred to the man as being “holed up” with his hostage. Many people, had they attempted to transcribe this, might have written, “the suspect is hold up with his hostage.” 

You’d be surprised what I’ve seen over the years in scripts before they made it to air or print. Really.

Holed up is a somewhat rare idiom that confuses people these days, mostly because of the popularity of the more common phrase, Hold up!, which means to wait or calm down.

Originally, holed up meant to hide in a literal hole or a cave for shelter. Over the years, as caves become less popular hiding places — after all, they’re a bit hard to find in a suburb — the phrase’s usage expanded to refer to any place, even a building or vehicle, where someone can hide or take shelter from something, whether that something is police, severe weather, a criminal or some other threat.

Sometimes, robbers in a bank holdup might end up holed up in a standoff with police. A holdup, almost everyone knows, is a robbery, usually at gunpoint or the appearance of gunpoint.

Sometimes, when I see bad writing, I think about how nice it would be to be holed up with better writers. But maybe that’s just me.


  1. There’s also a hold up (= delay), for example on a journey, or with a job getting done. And of course the literal, physical meaning, as in ‘It is his dream to hold up the Wimbledon trophy.’

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.