The Grammarphobia Blog

Hip hip hooray

Q: Your post concerning City College’s old “allagaroo” cheer prompts me to ask about several other examples of public exuberance. Do the terms “hurray,” “hurrah,” “hooray,” “huzzah,” and “whoopee” have different origins or was variable spelling an art form when they originated?

A: The interjections variously spelled “hurrah,” “hurray,” and “hooray” are variants on an earlier one, “huzza” (or “huzzah”), according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Huzza” was first recorded in writing in 1573, the OED says, when it was used as a noun meaning “the shout of huzza.”

The interjection itself—described as “a shout of exultation, encouragement, or applause; a cheer uttered by a number in unison”—didn’t make its way into writing until the following century.

The OED’s earliest citation for “huzza” actually used as an interjection is from a 1682 translation of Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s poem Le Lutrin: “Oh see (says Night) these Rogues sing Huzza! proud Of sure success, under my favouring Shroud.”

And here’s another early citation, from George Farquhar’s comedy The Recruiting Officer (1706): Huzza then, huzza for the Queen, and the Honour of Shropshire.”

Where did “huzza” come from? The OED says it’s “apparently a mere exclamation, the first syllable being a preparation for, and a means of securing simultaneous utterance of the final” sound, the “ah.”

The word has seafaring associations, according to the dictionary, which notes that it’s “mentioned by many 17-18th cent. writers as being originally a sailor’s cheer or salute.”

So the OED speculates that it may be the same word as “heisau” and “hissa,” which were cries used by mariners while hauling or hoisting ropes. A similar-sounding word, “heeze,” was an old verb meaning to hoist or raise.

The dictionary suggests another connection too: “German has also hussa as a cry of hunting and pursuit, and, subsequently, of exultation.”

Wherever it came from, “huzza” went on to give us the later substitutes “hurrah,” “hurray,” and “hooray,” a development the OED says is “perhaps merely due to onomatopoeic modification, but possibly influenced by some foreign shouts.”

As examples of possible foreign influences, Oxford mentions similar exclamations in Swedish, Danish, Low German, Dutch, Russian, French, and Middle High German.

The dictionary also cites an authority saying that “hurrah was the battle-cry of the Prussian soldiers in the War of Liberation (1812–13), and has since been a favourite cry of soldiers and sailors, and of exultation.”

As used in English, the OED adds, “the form hurrah is literary and dignified; hooray is usual in popular acclamation.”

You didn’t ask, but we ourselves were wondering about the “hip” (or multiples thereof) often accompanying a “hooray.” The OED says that in this usage, “hip” is “an exclamation used (usually repeated thrice) to introduce a united cheer.”

The use of “hip” in cheers was first recorded in the 19th century. This is a good example, from William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Pendennis (1849): “Here’s Mrs. Smirke’s good health: Hip, hip, hurray.”

However, “hip” was used earlier as a simple shouted greeting. The OED gives this definition, from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of 1755: “An exclamation or calling to one; the same as the Latin eho, heus!

This example of that earlier usage comes from Abraham Tucker’s philosophical work The Light of Nature Pursued (1768-74): “Perhaps Dr. Hartley … may give me a hip, and call out, ‘Prithee, friend, do not think to slip so easily by me.’ ”

We now turn our attention to “whoopee.” (We’ve been waiting for years to write that sentence!)

It’s a relative latecomer, first recorded in Harper’s Magazine in 1862: “He yelled at the top of his voice, ‘Whoopee! Whiskey only twenty-five cents a gallon!’”

But it turns out that the ancestor of “whoopee” is very old indeed. Oxford says that “whoopee,” defined as “an exclamation of exuberant joy,” was formed from an earlier interjection “whoop,” that dates back to about 1450.

Shakespeare used the expression several time in his plays. In King Lear (1608), for example, the Fool cries, “Whoop, Jug! I love thee.”

As for the origin of “whoop,” the OED calls it “a natural exclamation consisting of a voiceless w followed by an o or u sound, concluded by closure of the lips. The phonetic significance of some early forms is uncertain.”

The phonetic significance of many of these expressions is uncertain, but the athletic significance is quite obvious!

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