The strongest short word in English: hooray

There was a twelfth-century author named Wacewhom the king commissioned to write a chronicle of Norman conquest. Raoul Tesson yells: “Tur aie”, apparently, which means “Thor’s help”. “It is surely the origin of our modernity Hooray; and if so, perhaps the first mention of our English war cry. This is the opinion of someone who signed his name with the initials JFM in a letter printed in Notes and queries June 25, 1853. Surely…. Contributors to popular periodicals of the 19th century knew an awful lot: they read medieval chronicles in the original, quoted Homer and Latin authors, remembered psalms in Hebrew, and never forgot what they had learned, but their derivation words was random.

At that time, etymology in the English-speaking world was still an exercise in guesswork, and few people realized that a complete history of the origins of words had to answer the following questions: 1) When (according to our information) the word is- it appeared in the Language? 2) What did it mean at the time? 3) If it is a loan, why and when was it taken back? The story of Hooray is full of puzzling moments, but I don’t need to go into that in detail, because in 1940 John A. Walza Harvard German professor, once well known for his contributions, has published an article (42 pages) on the history of this exclamation (The English Journal and Germanic Philology 39, 1940, 33-75). Yet, while his investigation is excellent, it seems to contain a flaw that deserves our attention.

Hooray surfaced in English texts in the late 18th century. It was preceded by huzzahand the origin of huzzah has been explained quite convincingly as a sailor’s salute. The word may be identical to the old haul cry heissau ~ hoistedrelative to hoist (a verb of Dutch origin). The problem is that German has hussa (with voiceless ss), which has nothing to do with sailors: it is a cry of pursuit and exultation. A war cry reminiscent of the 16th century clamorused in the pursuit of a criminal (the verb boo is, most likely, of imitative origin)? Or the cry of hunters like English ataboy? We will come back to clamor later.

Two main questions haunt the student of Hooray. How is Hooray connected (if any) with its synonym huzzah? And how is it related to Russian ura (aas in english ah; stress on the second syllable), a cry of triumph, popular both in times of war and in times of peace. Walz, a distinguished scholar in the humanities, but not a linguist, argued that in huzzahwhich is earlier Hooray, z developed for r “through rhotacism.” This is a confusing statement. The term rhotacism refers to any consonant becoming r. In the history of Germanic languages, the best known and only important rhotacism occurred long before the appearance of the first written monuments, when z changed into r.

Traces of this early change are not too difficult to observe, even today: Washingtonsversus were, heyse versus (for)lornot (Mrs Gummidge in David copper field was called a solitary and abandoned creature), And so on. In Latin, alternation Venues ~ (genitive) Comeris is due to rhotacism. The history of language shows that almost any consonant can become r. For example, in the dialectal pronunciation of British English, soup (which we remember almost only the biblical phrase a mess of pottage) was pronounced with very weak youand the result is the universally known word porredge. Many similar examples can be found. But Walz’s scenario is unrealistic: allegedly, hussaby the weakening of s (rhotacism), gradually transformed into Hooray. Without at least a reference to the dialect of the people in whose speech such rhotacism occurred, this reconstruction is unconvincing. We should probably agree that hussa and Hooray are different words, although over time they have become awkward.

In the search for Hooray, there was an apparent breakthrough many years ago. German medieval poetry has come down to us fairly well. In this language, known as Middle High Germanthe long particle a (pronounced in English ah) was often added to verbs and nouns to emphasize them. Once the verb to yell “hurry up” occurred with this enclitic (“hurry up, hurry up!”), and as early as 1866, Hendrik Kernan eminent Dutch philologist, traced Hooray to that. This ingenious etymology is unfortunately impossible to accept. The medieval form in question appeared in the 13th century, when the first occurrence of hooray (thus) in German poetry dates back to 1773. Where has the word lain dormant for four hundred years?

A plate of soup next to a plate of porridge. What a mess!
(L: “Esau and the mess of pottage” by Jan Victors via Wikimedia Commons, public domain; A: “St. Nicholas” by Mary Mapes Dodge, via Picrylpublic domain)

The most authoritative etymological dictionary of German was written by Frederic Kluge. After his death, several editors worked on updating his work, and Kluge himself often changed his wordings from edition to edition. Walz traced the history of this entrance from 1882 to 1940: the reference to the medieval form appeared there and disappeared. (The same is true of later editions.) This is a usual scenario, and a similar story can be told about the etymology of many English words in later editions of Webster’s Dictionary, The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, and others. Here, Walz’s conclusion seems convincing: given the large time span between the 13th and the end of the 18th century, we have no right to derive the German word from a similar-sounding medieval form. The coincidence must be fortuitous.

As mentioned above, the other ghost in the story of Hooray who refuses to be buried is Russian uh!, an exclamation of triumph and encouragement. It is said to have been borrowed from German, but many amateurs and professional linguists have observed that the same word is common in several Turkic languages ​​and, given the frequency with which Russian soldiers fought their Turkish neighbors, the eastern origin of the Russian exclamation seems rather probable. Also, in the process of borrowing from German, Russian probably wouldn’t have lost the initial consonant and changed it to a real fricative, like German ch.

From the Russian Civil War about a century ago: URA!
(By Алексей Задонский via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0)

It may help to take a quick look at a few similar words, clamor among them. The etymon of this tautological Anglo-Norman phrase (tautological, because the two components mean the same thing) is tint shout “scream and cry.” The original group g– (a sin complain, growl, complainer, grouseetc.) is obviously a sound imitation. Hour is less expressive, but the aforementioned German to yell and English hurry up (the English verb only appeared in Shakespeare), the noun hustle and bustle; the verb throwan early borrowing from French, although the French verb may be of Germanic origin, and even hurt (its original meaning was “hit”: to compare slide down) indicate that the group houreven if it is not as expressive as g-, occasionally helps in this direction. The low sound h- amounts to a true fricative (like the German ch), and followed by routside of English, it produces a lot of noise-related words.

Is this the origin of Hooray? Just a sound imitation exclamation? Maybe so. And hurry up from the same origin? Maybe. Hardly a triumphant final. Not really. Small pitchers have long ears and short words have a complicated etymology. Sorry for producing a puff instead of a hurricane.

Image selected by Ambreen Hassan on Unsplashpublic domain