The Grammarphobia Blog

That old college cheer

Q: When my wife and I attended City College after World War II, we’d cheer on our basketball team with this nonsense: “Allagaroo, garoo, gara, Ee-yah, ee-yah, Sis boom bah, Yay, team!” Is there a hidden meaning in those lines?

A: “Allagaroo, garoo, gara!” was the City College of New York’s battle cry during the postwar years and students used it to cheer on the basketball team when it won both the NIT and NCAA basketball championships in 1950.

Where did “allagaroo” come from? The origin isn’t really known, but the word sleuth Barry Popik has come up with a couple of speculative theories.

Popik tracked down a 1950 article in the Sporting Times with this explanation: “According to school legend, an allagaroo either was a cross between an alligator and a kangaroo or a corruption of the French phrase ‘allez guerre’ (on to the war).”

In an article on his Big Apple website, Popik also points out that City College wasn’t the only school with an “allagaroo” cheer.

Hutchinson High School in Kansas has had one since 1901, but eliminated a stanza in 2003 after complaints about racial overtones. Here’s the first stanza of the revised cheer, from a Hutchinson alumni website:

Allagaroo, garoo, garoo; Wah, hoo, bazoo; Hicer, picer, dominicer; Sis! Boom! Bah! Hutchinson High School Rah! Rah! Rah!

As for the old City College cheer, we’ve seen various versions of it on the Web, including this one from an article in the April 3, 2000, issue of Sports Illustrated:

Allagaroo garoo gara, Allagaroo garoo gara, Ee-yah ee-yah, Sis boom bah, Team! Team! Team!

The Sports Illustrated article notes that in early 1951, “with CCNY’s grand season still fresh in the city’s memory,” seven members of the basketball team were arrested and charged with conspiring to fix games.

But let’s get back to the City College cheer you asked about.

The “ee-yah” part of the cheer has a history of its own. The yell was popularized by Hughie Jennings, a big-league baseball player and manager from 1891 to 1925, according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary (3rd ed.).

The dictionary says Jennings made the ear-splitting yell famous while he was the manager and third-base coach of the Detroit Tigers before World War I.

Dickson discounts stories that Jennings picked up the yell while working as a mule driver in his youth or that it originated from his mangling a Hawaiian phrase, weeki-weeki (watch out), used by a pitcher from Hawaii.

The Jennings yell became so well know, according to Dickson, that American infantrymen shouted it during trench warfare in World War I.

Now, let’s look at the interjection “sis boom bah.”

The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as an “echoic” expression that represents “the sound of a skyrocket: a hissing flight (sis), an explosion (boom), and an exclamation of delight from the spectators (bah, ah).”

The OED says the expression originated in 19th-century America, and is “a shout expressive of support or encouragement to a college team.”

The dictionary adds that it’s also used as a noun meaning “enthusiastic or partisan support of spectator sports, esp. football.” (Here’s a possible noun use: “Give us a sis-boom-bah.”)

Finally, we’ve written before on the blog about the word “yay,” so we won’t repeat ourselves.

Check out our books about the English language