So this question was just asked and it made me realize I didn't understand what was going on this particular movie scene (Mel Brooks' 1974 Blazing Saddles).


Governor William J. Le Petomane: Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered! Innocent women and children blown to bits! We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!

Governor William J. Le Petomane: [pointing to a member of his cabinet] I didn't get a "harrumph" out of that guy!

Hedley Lamarr: Give the Governor harrumph!

Politician: Harrumph!

Anyways, I thought that harrumph could be used to voice general agreement to or approval of what was just said. This is incorrect. Merriam-Webster's says this:

intransitive verb
1: to clear the throat in a pompous way
2: to comment disapprovingly
transitive verb
: to utter (a comment) disapprovingly

The actual meaning in this usage is the exact opposite of what I thought. So is there another accepted definition? Or is the governor and his cabinet [standing] around harrumphing about the current state of affairs? (from MW link above)

Or is that, as they say, the joke?

  • Is that a transcript of a single conversation? If so, it seems to be an utterly bewildering and meaningless one out of context. I have no idea what any of these people are trying to say based on what you've quoted. Harrumph is indeed a noise made to express disdain, not assent, or of course simply as an even more high-faluting way of saying “Ahem” or “Hem-hem” or “Hrm-hrm” (or however many other ways there are to spell someone clearing their throat). The more disdainfully offended you are, the more r’s you add. “I'll have none of that, thank you! Harrrrr-rumph!” – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 15 '14 at 23:24
  • 2
    (Added after watching the video clip) Aha. Now I see what is meant. Here, “harrumph” is just meant to be a pompous sound indicating indignation, being all worked up, etc. Not truly disdain, more a ‘rousing cry’, so to speak. A kind of “Geronimo!” battle cry of self-righteously pompous indignation, if you will. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 15 '14 at 23:27
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I agree with your 2nd comment. I just want to know if, say, OED has an obscure definition for that use. – Patrick M Jul 16 '14 at 14:44

The Governor is running through a bombastic tirade about things that make him unhappy. His Harrumph fits both definitions.

He is surrounded by yes-men, lackeys of no particular viewpoint or individual strength. He expects each and every one of them to be echoing his every expression, including his every harrumph.

  • Hmm, what you say follows my own thoughts on learning there wasn't a definition meaning "voicing agreement with discontent." I guess what I'm really driving at is: What is it called when you unintentionally disparage your argument or point of view through the mis-use of language? – Patrick M Jul 16 '14 at 14:44
  • Perhaps your argument is oxymoronic, you moron? – bib Jul 16 '14 at 17:47

While the official dictionary definition doesn't really agree with this, I always viewed this as the yes-men doing what yes-men do. Which is parroting and reinforcing the primary person's opinion without real thought of their own. The Governor says "harrumph" the yes-men say "harrumph." The governor actually uses it in the correct way, the yes-men parrot him. So they are agreeing with him by using a word that technically means they aren't. So in a way it is a subtle joke, among the many not so subtle jokes.

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