hip hip hooray

The cheer, also commonly spelled hip hip hurrah, as we know it today dates to the early nineteenth century, but its components go back a bit further. 

The cheer hip, hip, hurrah can be found as early as 1803 in a poem of that title which includes the lines:

And nine cheers for the girls that we love.
Hip, Hip, Hip, Hurrah!

(The Oxford English Dictionary entry has not been updated and has an earliest citation of hip hurrah from 1832 and hip hip hooray from 1849.) And as a call to get someone’s attention, the equivalent of today’s hey or yo, the cry of hip is recorded as early as 1752. The call doesn’t have any particular meaning; it’s just a sound.

The hurrah portion is even older, recorded as early as 1686. Even earlier is the cry of huzza, which is recorded by 1573. The shift from the / r / to the / z / sound may simply be random variation, or it could reflect the influence of other languages. Various other Germanic languages as well as Russian have cries similar to hurrah. Again, this cry has no specific meaning, it’s just a combination of sounds that are easy to yell.

There is a persistent myth that the cry hip hip hooray has an anti-Semitic origin. Like most myths, there is a grain of truth at its core, but that truth is distorted beyond all recognition. There were a series of anti-Semitic riots and pogroms in Germany in 1819, in which the protesters took up the rallying cry of hep hep. The riots subsequently became known as the Hep Hep Riots. But the German cry is unrelated to the English language cheer, which as we have seen predates the German riots. Another part of the myth is that hep is a Latin acronym for Hierosolyma est perdita (Jerusalem is lost), allegedly a crusader’s cry. This is certainly not true as acronymic word origins were almost nonexistent prior to the twentieth century and there is no evidence that the Latin phrase goes back to the Crusades. Like the English hip, this anti-Semitic cry is simply a sound that is easy to yell.

[Updated on 13 Oct 2015 to include the 1803 antedating.]


Sources:

“Hip, Hip, Hurrah” in Zangerslust, Utrecht: C. Van Der Post, 1803.

Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2nd edition, 1989, s. v. hep, int.; hip, int. (and n.4); hurrah | hurray, int. and n.; huzza, int. and n.

[Discuss this post]

Powered by ExpressionEngine
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton