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I am looking for the etymology and history of the cheer “Hip Hip Hooray”. I’m curious due to its interesting entry in Wikipedia, which reads thusly:

The call was recorded in England in the beginning of the 19th century in connection with making a toast. It has been suggested that the word “hip” stems from a medieval Latin acronym, “Hierosolyma Est Perdita”, meaning “Jerusalem is lost”, a term that gained notoriety in the German Hep hep riots. Another claim is that the Europeans picked up the Mongol exclamation “hooray” as an enthusiastic cry of bravado and mutual encouragement, according to Jack Weatherford’s book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

It’s all rather intriguing! It is all the more so since the Hep-Hep anti-Semitic riots took place in 1819. Unfortunately, none of the sources cited on the Wikipedia page appear to be all that etymologically useful.

There are a couple of loosely related questions on this site; one for hip and the other for hooray. The latter carries no mention of the exotic Mongol touch.

So, in many ways, this question requests the etymology of the three different pieces of the puzzle: hip, hooray and hip hip hooray itself.

Update (for the bounty): If the anti-Semitic (and Latin) connection is/isn’t a load of horse manure, then I’d appreciate (dis)confirmation as well as information (if possible) on the source of said manure. Some sites cite Gabay’s Copywriter’s Compendium (2006) as the point of origin of the Hep-Hep connection.

A similar request applies for hooray’s Mongolian connection—Jack Weatherford’s book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

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Regarding your update: Are you asking for (dis)confirmation/source of a link between the hip [hip hooray] (cheer) and hep[-hep], or between hep[-hep] and the Latin? –  Hugo Jul 28 '12 at 19:54
@hugo: Preferably both :) –  coleopterist Jul 28 '12 at 20:35
related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17816/… –  Charles Aug 3 '12 at 16:12
At the bottom of this page (goo.gl/ab0Tm) you can find The Sun, a UK tabloid, punning on "hip" and "heptathlon" to inadvertently reproduce the older "hep" spelling in celebrating Jessica Ennis's heptathlon gold medal. Seems like all roads lead to "hep." –  jabrew Aug 5 '12 at 20:48
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5 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The OED has hooray as a variant of hurrah meaning goodbye, from 1898. Hurrah and hurray are a shout or cheers of encouragement, from huzza of 1573.

Hip, also hep, is an exclamation or a call to another and the same as the Latin eho, heus!, according to Johnson. From 1752. It's also an exclamation, usually repeated three times to introduce a cheer, from The every-day book (1827):

To toss off the glass, and huzza after the ‘hip! hip! hip!’ of the toast giver.

Finally, derivatives of hip are hip-hurrah and hip-hip-hurrah, first quoted in The Examiner (1832):

One set of men ‘hip hurrah’ and rattle decanter stoppers.


Edit to answer question update: What's the source of the claim that "hip" stems from a medieval Latin acronym, "Hierosolyma Est Perdita", meaning "Jerusalem is lost", a term that gained notoriety in the German Hep hep riots? Is Gabay's Copywriter's Compendium (2006) the point of origin of the Hep-Hep connection?

It goes much further back than 2006.

The origin of hep used in the German riots is discussed in an 1869 Notes and Queries (imagine a Victorian precursor to Stack Exchange) and they believe it was from the Latin phrase "Hierosolyma Est Perdita" (Jerusalem is Lost) as both Germans and Jews accepted it. They note some derive it from Ziegen-Hep (goat's beard) referring to "the bearded Jews", and others say Hep was originally Heb for Hebrew. N&Q question the statement that the "Hep! Hep!" cry is as old as the Crusades, as it was first heard in Würzburg aronud 1819. It was much discussed in N&Q; Aug. 1853, Oct. 1853,

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898) repeats the hip-hep-Latin link and references Notes and Queries, which may have helped popularise it. But it seems to have been a well-known myth as early as 1841, when it's told in George Stanley's story Spencer Middleton; or the Squire of River Hill (published in The Metropolitan Magazine).

The "origin" is included in 1842's The Treasury of Wit and Anecdote and links it to Peter the Hermit:

While preaching the crusade, this furious zealot was accustomed to exhibit a banner emblazoned with the following letters, H. E. P., the initials of the Latin words, Hierosolyma est Perdita, Jerusalem is destroyed.

David Wilton discusses these links in Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends (2008), including the claim hep originates the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 135 AD:

But despite these claims, no solid evidence of cries of Hep! or the phrase Hierosolyma Est Perdita can be found dating them to either Roman or Medieval times.

Wilton says the Würzburg students' Hep! Hep! could have been abbreviations from the Latin, or imitating the Hep! that 19th century German goatherds used to drive their goats.

Regardless of what the students of Würzburg meant by their shouts, it is not the origin of hip in Hip! Hip! Hurrah! English use of the cheer predates the 1819 riots.

He dates this English hip to the mid-18th century, hurrah to the late-17th century and concludes:

So there is a grain of truth to the legend in that the cry of Hep! has been associated with anti-Semitism since early nineteenth century, but the main point of the legend is false.

Finally, any pre-20th century acronyms should be treated with care. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, acronyms were rare before the World War I, and didn't become popular until the World War II. Hep may not have derived from Hierosolyma Est Perdita during the crusades, but it's possible the German rioters did, and interesting a folk etymology was developed around this to describe hip in the 19th century.


Edit 2 to answer question update: What's the source of the claim that Europeans picked up the Mongol exclamation "hooray" as an enthusiastic cry of bravado and mutual encouragement? Is Jack Weatherford's book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004) the source?

It appears so.

Wikipedia says:

The origin of the word in its various forms is not clear, but it may have been influenced by war cries from various languages: the OED suggests Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Russian and Prussian words that may have played a part. Jack Weatherford asserts that it comes from the Mongolian Hurree, used by Mongol armies and spread throughout the world during the Mongol Empire of the 13th century, but he does not appear to present any supporting evidence. Weatherford says that in Mongolian Hurree is a sacred praise much like amen or hallelujah.

Dipping into the OED again, hooray is from hurrah which is a later substitute for huzza perhaps an onomatopoeic modification, or perhaps influenced by foreign shouts (Swedish, Danish, Low German, Dutch, Russian, Middle High German). It also mentions Prussian soldiers in the War of Liberation (1813-15).

Huzza goes back to 16th century (other forms hussa, hussaw, huzzah, huzzay, the oldest from the 15th century) and the etymology is given:

apparently a mere exclamation, the first syllable being a preparation for, and a means of securing simultaneous utterance of the final /ɑː/ .

It notes 17-18th century writers said it was a sailor's cheer or salute when friends came aboard, and may be the same as the hauling or hoisting cry heisau! hissa!, from heeze and hissa. (It parenthetically mentions German hunting and, later, exultation cry ˈhussa.)

In 2005, Joe Murphy, a member of the Usenet group sci.lang wrote to Weatherford to ask his sources, and I'll quote it in full:

Dear Prof. Weatherford:

I am a semi-retired lawyer in Indianapolis. I am also a history buff and something of an amateur linguist. I am presently reading your book, "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World". In reading it, I came across this, in the introductory pages of the paperback version at page xxiv of your Introduction:

"The Europeans even picked up the Mongol exclamation "hooray" as an enthusiastic cry of bravado and mutual encouragement."

This piqued my interest. I checked my Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary for the etymology of "Hurrah" and "Hurray" and found the word listed as of probable German origin. A Google search on the etymology revealed this:

Hurrah: 1686, alteration of huzza, apparently infl. by similar shouts in Ger., Dan., Swed. May have been picked up during Thirty Years' War. According to Moriz Heyne, this was the battle-cry of Prussian soldiers during the War of Liberation (1812-13). Hooray is its popular form and is almost as old.

I'm a long-time member of the Usenet group, sci.lang and yesterday broached the matter of the origin of "Hurray" with the group (which includes a lot of practicing linguists). One of them, Peter T. Daniels, suggested that I write you and ask if you had any sourcing for the Mongol origin of the word. So, that's the reason for this email. I couldn't find anything on it in the Source Notes provided at the back of your book and was wondering where you came up with your contention that the origin of the word is Mongolian.

By the way, I'm enjoying the book. You really write well. I was unaware of the historical background surrounding "The Secret History of the Mongols" until I read what you had to say on the subject. I'm looking forward to finishing your book.

I've been interested in the Mongols, by the way, since I was a kid and read Harold Lamb's Landmark Books biography of Genghis Khan.

Anyway, if you have a source for the Mongol origin of "hurray" I'd appreciate your sharing it with me. I've got a lot of my friends on sci.lang interested in this. Believe it or not, some there actually speak Mongolian!

Joe Murphy

Weatherford replied:

Many thanks for the note and your interest.

Like most etymologies that do not come through the standard sources, many scholars will reject this, but in my mind there is absolutely no question.

The Germans (or really, the Prussians) picked it up from the Russians who picked it up from the Mongols. A little more of the etymology can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary than in Webster's, but the OED only traces it as far as Russia and the Cossacks (if my memory is correct) but then leaves it unknown before that time.

In Mongolian the phrase is used today much the way Christians use "amen." At the end of a prayer, Mongols hold both hands out with palms up and move them in a clockwise circle three times saying "hurray, hurray, hurray." Earlier the phrase was used for all types of official occasions -- it is sacred in that it is calling on the Sky for aid.

The root of the word is the same as Khuraltai -- the great gathering of Mongolians that I mention in the book. In fact, the modern parliament is called the Ih Hural where, I believe, President Bush will be speaking for the first time in about 12 hours from now.

I will check back in the OED as well, but I hope that this gives a little more information.



I forgot one of the most important points.

It is unclear whether the Mongols actually used the cry in war when mounted on horses. They used it at all group gatherings and almost certainly for the ceremonial prayer before the attack. It may have been the Russians who, in their many years of fighting with and for the Mongols, began using it at the moment of attack.

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Thanks Hugo. I've expanded my question (along with a bounty) requesting details on the German as well as the Mongolian connection. –  coleopterist Jul 28 '12 at 12:48
+1 for the sci.lang ref. Some of the info in my answer supports the Mongolian link. –  Fuhrmanator Aug 1 '12 at 23:10
Excellent answer and thanks for all the research! I see that the 'Peter the Hermit' link is mentioned as far back as 1830, but again, anecdotally. –  coleopterist Aug 4 '12 at 7:53
I was curious about the origin of "hip, hip, hip, hurrah" as I just read in Jack Whyte's novel The Singing Sword (set in Britain at the end of the Roman occupation, around 400 AD), that the origin was a chant that the first Romans heard from the Picts, presumably picked up by the Romans-- I was wondering whether (and how!) that might be known –  user30603 Nov 8 '12 at 18:18
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To its credit, that Wikipedia page does at least say all that tosh about "Hierosolyma Est Perdita" = "Jerusalem is lost" is just something that "has been suggested". But that's one etymology I wouldn't waste a single brain-cell on (dammit! - I've wasted valuable screen-space and my own attention!).

The reality is that "Hip!" (and variants such as "Hep!" and "Hup!") have probably been standard "rallying-cries" since time immemorial, across countless cultures; no-one could realistically hope to establish an "origin". You'll hear some version of "Hep! Hep!" in many places where herders and others need to chivvy domesticated animals along (or sluggardly soldiers, hunting hounds, etc.).

And Hurrah (Huzzah,Huzza), first attested in 1573, has little connection to anti-semitic Germans much later - originally a sailor's cheer or salute, possibly influenced by Middle High German hurr.

One of the earlier citations I can find for the combined form is in this collection of reminiscences on life at Cambridge University (pub 1827). But note that it's "Hip, hip, hip hurrah!" (though the modern shorter version seems to become much more popular within a few years). I think it's quite possible it really did start as something cried out by an enthusiastic "toastmaster" at the university.

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Thanks FF. I've added a bounty to persuade you to waste some of those brain cells :) –  coleopterist Jul 28 '12 at 12:50
@coleopterist: It was just the "Hierosolyma Est Perdita" stuff that I thought was tosh. But as for more detailed etymology, you've probably reached the limit of my sleuthing abilities. Maybe Robusto will be persuaded to turn his attention to it - he being one of ELU's finest when it comes to such matters. –  FumbleFingers Jul 28 '12 at 13:16
Understood. Thanks for the answer :) –  coleopterist Jul 28 '12 at 13:36
I would like to add that the "Hip, hip, hip hurrah!" version is still used in Belgium for, say, birthdays –  Boris Callens Aug 1 '12 at 10:46
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More info, not necessarily helping to debunk any Mongolian link, however.

http://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/hourra states that the French version hourra was borrowed in 1686 from English hurra(h) which is thought to have been borrowed from German hurra and/or Russian ura and/or Turk wurmak.

http://hourra.ptidico.com/definition-de-hourra.htm states in the Dictionnaire d'Emile Littré that the etymology is German, English, and Slavic, where hu-raj means to paradise, meaning that every warrior who fights valiantly will go to heaven (paradise).

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I approached this question in a slightly different manner and investigated the origins of Dutch "hoera", which seemed to be the equivalent of hurrah.

Hoera What I found was that the word is found in 14th-century German as a proclamation that you might translate as "Onwards!", which stems from the German hurren (to move rapidly), a word that can now only be found in dialect (sources: Van Veen and van der Sijs, 1997; van Wijk, 1912).

The Dutch are then claimed to have copied the use of the word in the early 19th century, during the wars against Napoleon. (source: H. Kern (1866)).

However, the same source claims that the English expression 'hurrah' was already in use at this point -- which is corroborated by ODO -- and might have even inspired the Germans to use their hurra as an exclamation. The origin of the English expression is unclear, although some suspect it stems (rather circularly I might add) from Dutch and/or German, where hurren became used in nautical circles as hijsen (to raise the sails)! The source also claims that Dutch hiep hiep was most definitely transferred to Dutch from English, through German. According to ODO, it appeared in English only in the 18th century.

Hip hip So what does this tell us about the role of the "hep hep riots"? Interestingly enough, Cecil Adams claims 'hep hep' to also originate from something akin to "Onwards!", but then in the context of goat herding! In his Straight Dope column he deals with the story about the expression's anti-Semitic roots.

One thing that appears off to me with regard to the Roman origins of HEP HEP is that abbreviations tend to go hand in hand with literacy and I strongly doubt the Roman masses were that literate to begin with, let alone literate enough to keep the expression (and its intended meaning) alive. Adams makes a similar point.

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Thanks for the answer, Vincent. I think that your links need some fixing; you can use the link/chain icon to create URL links easily. –  coleopterist Aug 4 '12 at 7:55
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Wikipedia article: Cheering

Of the different words or rather sounds that are used in cheering, "hurrah", though now generally looked on as the typical British form of cheer, is found in various forms in German, Scandinavian, Russian (ura), French (hourra). It is probably onomatopoeic in origin. The English hurrah was preceded by huzza, stated to be a sailors word, and generally connected with heeze, to hoist, probably being one of the cries that sailors use when hauling or hoisting.

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+1 because the Cheering article cites the same refs I found looking up origins of "hip hip hip hourra" in French. –  Fuhrmanator Aug 1 '12 at 22:47
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