Q: Was the Bronx cheer born in the New York borough of the same name?
A: How did you guess? Actually, the Bronx may have given us the term, but not the sound of contempt made by sticking one’s tongue between the lips and letting out air.
A far older term for this sound is “raspberry,” which may in turn (though this is debatable) be derived from “raspberry tart,” Cockney rhyming slang for “fart.”
The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for the contemptuous “raspberry” dates from 1890 – a reference in a slang dictionary to “a particularly squashy noise that is extremely irritating.”
The expression “Bronx cheer” doesn’t show up in the OED until a 1929 issue of Collier’s magazine. But I prefer the dictionary’s next citation, a quote from the P.G. Wodehouse novel Hot Water (1932): “She told me … that she was through .… No explanations. Just gave me the Bronx Cheer and beat it.”
The expression “Bronx cheer” purports to describe the bad manners exhibited by residents of the Bronx, according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, but I beg to disagree. I’m married to a particularly well-mannered former denizen of the Bronx.
The word sleuth Barry Popik says the term has long been associated with Yankees fans and Yankee Stadium, which is in the Bronx. And anyone who has attended a ballgame at the Stadium knows what rude noises Yankees fans are capable of making when they’re displeased.
Over the years, some Bronx officials have not been happy to be associated with the “cheer.” On his website, The Big Apple, Popik quotes a former borough president as saying, “The Bronx cheer was brought here from outside somewhere and for some inexplicable reason was named for our borough.”
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