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I am familiar with the idiom “to root for something” meaning that I am hoping for something to happen or taking the side of something.

But what does this have to do with roots? Does it mean that I am putting my root where somebody else stands?

Where did this idiom originate?

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9 Answers 9

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You need to differentiate the noun from the verb, then investigate the verb for your answer.

The noun doesn't help much here.

root n.: the part of a plant, usually below the ground, that lacks nodes, shoots, and leaves, holds the plant in position, draws water and nourishment from the soil, and stores food Origin: Middle English rote from Late Old English from Old Norse rot, akin to Old English wyrt, German wurzel from Indo-European base an unverified form wrād-, twig, root from source Glassical Greek rhiza, Classical Latin radix, root, ramus, branch

root vi.: to give audible encouragement or applause to a contestant or team; cheer. See Synonyms at applaud; to lend support to someone or something.

Origin: possibly alteration of rout. A second source also mentioned rout as the possible origin. root:Possibly an alteration of rout (“to make a loud noise”), influenced by hoot

rout to bellow, used of cattle. (First Known Use: 14th century): 14th century (Middle English rowten, from Old Norse rauta; akin to Old English rēotan to weep, Latin rudere to roar)

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  • There is a verb related to plants, as in a pig rooting for truffles, though it may not be related to supporting.
    – Henry
    Dec 28, 2013 at 23:20
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    @Henry: Well, rooting for truffles does involve pushing them up, raising their visibility/profile [to whoever might be interested]. So that might be a factor. Among several - I'm up for the root-rout-hoot associations too (and roar, rah-rah!, etc.). Dec 28, 2013 at 23:38
  • @Henry - look it up to see your mistake, for you are too exclusive. Dec 28, 2013 at 23:38
  • I think rootin' tootin' is C20 (maybe later C19), but there are twice as many instances of root toot shoot as the more "alphabetical" root shoot toot. Including Dyche's A Guide to the English Tongue in 1709. Maybe we just have an inherent penchant for alliteratively rootin' tootin' cheerleaders. Dec 28, 2013 at 23:54
  • There is a serious difference between the noun and the verb. The verb is always pronounced /rut/, with a tense /u/ to rhyme with boot. The noun, on the other hand, is frequently pronounced /rʊt/, with a lax /ʊ/, to rhyme with foot. The verb meaning to dig around in search of something is also frequently pronounced /rʊt/. Dec 29, 2013 at 0:05
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The OED expresses some skepticism of the etymology related to rout, adding to this the possibility that it derives from earlier senses of root meaning "to turn up ground" or "to dig."

The origin of sense 4 is uncertain. It has been suggested that it may be a transferred use of the sense ‘to dig’, ‘to turn up the ground’, perhaps ‘with the imagery of stamping so hard that one is visualized as digging a hole’ (see G. Cohen Stud. in Slang (1989) II. 67–8). A connection with rout v.4 has also been suggested, but is unlikely on phonological grounds (although compare rout v.9) and also perhaps also on semantic grounds, since some early examples emphasize stamping and clapping rather than cheering.

This sense 4 definition comes after similar definitions related to pigs that "root" in the ground, later extended to other animals. So it seems worth noting that the earliest attestation makes a direct comparison to pigs.

All during the game Jim never blinked, and he rooted more energetically and with twice the freedom of a Yorkshire porker.

  • 1889 World (N.Y.) 7 June 11/4

Green's Dictionary of Slang also does not mention the "rout" etymology and also references Cohen's Slang as cited in the OED note referring to the "digging" theory.

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  • This seems most likely to me - "root" as meaning "work hard to get something", initially, then transferred to "support or cheer on". Dec 1, 2017 at 16:50
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Apparently, in Australia, to root is slang for fuck. They think it is hilarious when Americans say root for the team. I'm pretty convinced that the plant based meaning does not explain the development of cheering for. It makes no sense. It seems much more likely it is a spelling change, and then maybe a pronunciation change from some other word in English. I like the possibility that it is an altered spelling of hoot - which when you say either word is barely a difference in the pronunciation. The bellow of cow from middle English is possible, and "rudere" to roar from Latin also seems phonetically possible. But, I'm going to guess its an alternative spelling of hoot. And if so, what is the origin of "hoot"?

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My guess is that to root for something means to solidly plant, or ground, or establish your disposition of agreement with, or support for a cause or position.

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    This would benefit from some supporting sources for your guess. Apr 7, 2020 at 5:40
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I think it means taking a firm stance in support of something or someone akin to the roots of a tree. Strong. Unmoving. Deeply embedded, a stance which can't be shaken. A stance that can be trusted. To root for someone is to give them your full support. Like the roots of a tree are its reason for being able to stand tall and strong. That's my opinion :)

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    – Community Bot
    Mar 6 at 9:19
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I've alway thought the term came from watching pigs root around in the dirt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRz1tvx-6eQ

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  • What extra information does the video provide? If it's necessary for understanding your post, please try to put into words what can be gleaned from the video (that you might have linked solely to get more views, so please also let us know what your affiliation with it is). This also sounds more like opinion than anything else.
    – Joachim
    Jun 4 at 16:00
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I think it's a revolting expression. I loathe all the 'root toot' references to shooting. The only word needed for shooting is bang.

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  • Use citations in answers, if you please.
    – lbf
    Mar 31, 2018 at 14:22
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Root Around or to root; Action to look for something. What a mole or a pig might do to get root vegetables.

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    I don't believe this adequately explains a link between the meaning you espouse and the meaning in the question. Feb 9, 2016 at 10:12
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Surely the answer is that when you want to get of (say) a tree in the middle of a field in order to plough up that field and cultivate it (without that tree ort shrub or weed reappearing at some point) you need to get rid of it by not only cutting it down (which deals with the branches etc) but also dig up all the roots (as you would with Japanese Knotweed and many other plants such as mint) or there is a danger it will reappear at some point in the future. therefore if you want to deal with the matter thoroughly and leave no stone unturned you need to deal with the matter 'root and branch' so that there is nothing left that might reappear later and trouble you unexpectedly. I would have thought that is the most sensible origin of this phrase. the fact that 'pigs' may be mentioned is that they deal with shrubs and plants thoroughly and will eat the whole shrub, bush or plant ... root and branch. again it is a simple explanation. I don't see why this should have anything to do with 'hoot' or something complicated like that.

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