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It's common to hear cheers of the form "“Go X!” where X is the name of a team or individual. I understand that its meaning is, as nohat said in another thread,

“Go ___!” is a common exclamation intended to express approval and encouragement to a team or an individual.

My question is: does this phrase have an etymology? The sense of "go" as used in this template does not seem to be used anywhere else. For instance, we cannot report this exclamation as "he asked his team to go". Does the phrase originate in some archaic sense of go, in some larger phrase (like "Go and win") or is it of unknown origin?

Edit: If I'm not mistaken, the phrase can be used not only for sports like football that involve physically moving towards a goal, but also sports like baseball and even chess or (competitive) programming, which mostly involve sitting in one location.

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  • Just a quick note, whether or not it helps: the German equivalent would be "Los!" rather than the literal "Geht!", which immediately makes me think of "Auf die Plätze, fertig, los!", i.e. "Ready, steady, go!"
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 18:09
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    Excuse me...I think you misspelled "Go, Red Sox!" ;)
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 19:47
  • The Australian slang equivalent is 'Carn, as in 'Carn the Pies - it's short for "Come on.."
    – Dexter
    Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 13:49
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    Well, this construction isn't just unique to English: I know the French shout "Allez-y!" (Go ___!) when they cheer on their football and basketball teams, for example.
    – Uticensis
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 22:19
  • I've always supposed that it was a truncated form of "Go forth and conquer!"
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 19:47

8 Answers 8

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Was it used in races before it became a general expression of encouragement? If so, it would explain the origin.

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    All the answers so far have essentially been guesses, and among them this guess seems the most appealing to me, so I'm accepting this as answer. If someone else knows something with historical certainty, such answers would still be most welcome. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 20:10
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The OED gives, as meaning 19b (out of a whopping 48, most with subparts) of the word go, "To be successful, meet with applause or support." The earliest citation of this use, from 1742, is "You must not tip us the Traveller; it won't go here." It may be that the imperative in "Go X!" is an exhortation for X to go in this sense (even though the more general use seems to have died out).

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Perhaps it is derived from the sense of "initiate (forward) motion", as in "Go! The light has been green for 10 seconds, go!"

I think you could actually report "He yelled, 'Go Team!'" as "He exhorted his team to get going", as in to make a start or to improve their rate of progress toward a goal.

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Perhaps your phrase is a shortening of "go to". OED's entry for "to go to" reads:

To go about one's work, to get to work. Chiefly in imp. as an exhortation = Come on!

Here are some examples which seem similar in spirit to your "Go _!":

1513 G. Douglas tr. Virgil Æneid ix. ii. 12 "Hay, hay, go to! than cry thai with ane schout."

1611 Bible (A.V.) Gen. xi. 3 "And they sayd one to another; Goe to, let vs make bricke."

1690 W. Walker Idiomatologia Anglo-Lat. 208 "Go to! let it be done."

Though, to be honest, I think I'm pulling at straws here. I'm inclined to think that your "Go, team, go!" belongs to a family of verbs which follow can follow pattern. Some examples that come to mind are "Run, Lola, run!" or, "Drive, man, drive", or "Speak, man, speak!".

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In any non-literal "I want you to move to this location" sense, you're simply urging the team to spur further action toward victory.

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I believe this to be an instance of "go" meaning "to develop, progress, or proceed, esp. with reference to success or satisfaction", i.e. meaning 21 of "go" as a verb with no object at dictionary.com.

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I'm not a native english speaker, but I guess it's like a war cheer when a commander would tell his soldiers to "Go" meaning to advance towards the enemy to attack them. But it's just a guess.

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"Go X!" stands mainly for encouragement.

You go girl!

is another common usage 1. It probably means "go out and do something." Other uses I have seen is

She is a typical New-York-go-getter type of girl.

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