Monday, May 26, 2014

Three Cheers, Hip-Hip-Hurrah, and Tom and Jerry, a Cheer-ful etymology



Three Cheers, Hip-Hip-Hurrah, 

and Tom and Jerry


Long before Sis-Boom-Bah became the gold-standard of sports cheers, “three cheers” and “Hip! Hip! Hurrah!” ruled the day.  Although “three cheers” has a deep and inscrutable history, hip-hip-hurrah dates from only about 1810.  The phrase came to the United States later, and may well have been popularized by Tom and Jerry – no, not that Tom and Jerry - the original Tom and Jerry.

Three Cheers

The number three has long fascinated the mystics.  Aristotle said that, “the triad is the number of the whole, insofar as they have a beginning, a middle and an end.”  Christian tradition has the Trinity, three Wise Men, and Peterdenying Jesus three times.  Buddhism has the triratna, or three jewels, of Buddha, Dharma and Samgha.  And, of course, five, er . . . three, was the number of the counting for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (see Armaments Chapter 2, verses 9-21).  

Whatever the reason, “three cheers” appears to be an ancient tradition.  The three earliest accounts of three cheers that I found were all associated with the British military in the late seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth century.  In 1690, when a group of British soldiers were released from prison by the French, and sent on a forced march to a prisoner exchange, the soldiers called to their compatriots who remained in the prison:

Just as we came without the Town-gate, we gave the rest of our Country-men, which we left behind, three Cheers or Hollows: That done, away we march’d Six Leagues, to a Town call’d Lazerean, leaving Rochel on the left hand.

Richard Strutton, A True Relation of the Cruelties and Barbarities of the French, Upon the English Prisoners of War, Printed for R. Baldwin, London (1690) (chapter entitled, Rochefort to Denan, April 22, 1690).  Interestingly, the three cheers are “hollows” (I imagine something like hello or halloa) as opposed to the more familiar “huzzah” or later “hurrah.”

In an account of an engagement between English and French naval forces:

On receiving the Fire as aforesaid from the Content, our people gave three Cheers, and we began the Action by our Fire on the L’Mars . . . .

Thomas Watson, A True and Authentick Narrative of the Action Between the Northumberland and Three French Men of War, W. Payne and J. Collyer, London (1745).

And, from a military journal of British military actions in “Bengal”:

At 8 in the evening a drunken seaman straggling from his command pushed into the Fort, when finding no resistance gave three cheers, and was followed by the whole body without any orders, scarce any being found to oppose them, as the garrison had begun to leave the Fort at sunset.

Report of December 29, 1756, Journal of the Military Proceedings of the Honb’le Company’s troops sent on the expedition to Bengal, Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Clive, published in Bengal & Madras Papers, Volume 2, Calcutta (1928).

By the early 1800s, three cheers was already a long-standing tradition.  Hip-hip was also well-known, but they were not joined until about 1810.

Hip, Hip


Hip-Hip had a life of its own before it was introduced as a preparatory signal when giving the traditional three cheers.  Hip-hip appears to have been used as a means of getting someone’s attention, in the manner in which we might use, “hey there,” today.  A late-eighteenth-century dictionary defined “hip,” as:

HIP, hip. Iterj. An exclamation, or calling to one.

Thomas Sheridan, A Complete Dictionary of the English Language, C. Dilly, London (1790).

For example:

Hark! Hark! –hip! Hip! – hoh! Hoh!
What a mart of bards are singing!
Athwart, - across below,
I’m sure there’s a dozen a dining!

 Irregular Ode No. I, Sir Cecil Wray, published in An Asylum for Fugitive Pieces, in Prose and Verse, A New Edition, J. Debrett, London (1785).

Hector saw all, and ran so fast, He tumbl’d o’er his head for haste, But up he got again, and took His stick, and drove the Greeks like smoke.  Sarpedon, glad to see them skip, Roars out to Hector, Hip, hip, hip; Then as he came a little near him, Begg’d that a word or two he’d hear him: I shall be smash’d, as God shall mend me, Unless you bustle to defend me . . . .

Hip, hip, she cry’d, to make him stand, Then came and shook him by the hand.

Thomas Bridges, A Burlesque Translation of Homer, S. Hooper, London, 1770.

Hip, Hip, Hurrah!


At some point in time, probably during the early 1800s, the attention-getting, “hip, hip,” was introduced preparatory to giving “three cheers,” to get the crowd’s attention to cheer the person being toasted at the same time, or perhaps just to get their attention to the cheers being given.  The result was the now-familiar, “hip, hip, hurrah!” 

In 1819, the phrase, “hip, hip, hurrah,” which had developed in Britain, was all but unknown in the United States but had already taken hold in Canada.  In a travelogue about a trip from Hartford, Connecticut to Quebec, a footnote described the ritual in detail:

There was one circumstance in this dinner, which I have not elsewhere noticed.  When the toasts were to be cheered, the Vice-President, after rising, (and the company with him,) cried out, very loud, and with a very distinct articulation, and strong emphasis, and a pause between the words – hip! hip! hip! – hurra! hurra! – now! now! now! – hurra! – again! again! again! – hurra! – hip! hip! – hurra! hurra! hurra! &c. – the company repeating only the hurra, to which the other words appeared to be only a watch word, that all might join in the hurra at once.  Since this dinner, I am told by an Englishman, that this ceremonial is not uncommon at set formal parties in England, but I never heard of it while there.”

Benjamin Silliman, Remarks Made on a Short Tour, Between Hartford and Quebec, in the Autumn of 1819, S. Converse, New Haven, 1820, page 352. 

The detailed observation and careful reporting was in keeping with the author’s position as a leading scientist.  Benjamin Silliman was one of the first American-born and educated science professors in the United States.  He studied at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, and later gave the first lectures in the sciences (chemistry) ever given at Yale.  He is famous for being the first person to distill petroleum.  He was someone who would likely have heard hip-hip-hurrah before 1819, if it had been in common use.

Silliman had travelled throughout England and Scotland in 1805 and 1806; he published an account of those travels in 1810.  As a gentleman scholar, he would have been present at the sorts of occasions at which hip-hip-hurrahs would be given.  During his travels in Britain, he was present on at least three occasions where huzzahs or hurrahs were given.  He was present when the King and Queen were huzza’d while attending the theatre; he was present when Lord Admiral Nelson received three cheers upon his departure, shortly before his death at the Battle of Trafalgar; and he was on a ship when a fellow passenger received three cheers from family and friends on shore. 

The fact that he was surprised and intrigued by the hip-hip-hurrah ritual he observed in Canada in 1819 suggests that hip-hip-hurrah emerged after 1806.  As a matter of fact, hip-hip first appears in the context of a toast or cheer five years after 1806, in 1811.  

 In a novel, as a man comes to after having been knocked out in a fight, a stranger tells him:

“You are safe, my old boy!” exclaimed a ruffian looking man.  “You have not done for him this bout: the rascal’s alive and kicking – so we’ll give him a drop of gin to bring him cleverly about again, and then leave him to take care of Sukey Pewsey and Betty Heckle; for I dare to say this here is an old acquaintance, and they have met often in the same place before: but – hip, hip! My girls; here’s to the boy’s better health.”

Anthony Frederick Holstein, Isadora of Milan, Printed for H. Colburn, London, 1811, Volume 3.

In another novel, a series of toasts are offered during an extravagant party:

“Our beloved and gracious monarch, our sovereign Lord King George the Third, and that it might please the Supreme Disposer of all human events, that he might reign as long as he had heretofore reigned, and prove  as prosperous.” This was drank with hip, hip, hip, and three times three; and two fiddles and a drum struck up – “God save the King.” . . .

“That brave hero, Lord Nelson, and all who fell with him at Trafalgar.” . . . . The toast was then drank with hip, hip, hip, and three times three, when the band before mentioned played – “Rule Britannia.” . . .

“The Gracious and Royal Patron of Brighton, George, Prince of Wales; that he might enjoy health and prosperity; that when he came to the throne, he might be as prosperous, and reign as long as our beloved monarch and sovereign Lord King George the Third.” This was also drank with hip, hip, hip, and three times three, and the fiddles and drums struck up – “Britons, strike Home.”

Henrietta Maria Moriarty, Brighton in an Uproar; . . . A Novel, Founded on Facts, In Two Volumes (Volume II, Second Edition), London, 1811.

Hip-hip had finally found its way into toasts and cheers.  Interestingly, however, both attestations from 1811 do not appear in the traditional, hip-hip-hurrah format.  The tradition hipping before hurrahing may have still been in its infancy, and had not yet developed into its final form.   

Hip continued to appear in non-traditional formats in 1813; this time with the hips following the hurrahs.  In a parody of Shakespeare’s Othello, Cassio, Montano and Iago give a toast in honor of Othello:

Iago:                    In toping England Europe gives a thumper.
Cassio.                 Here goes our noble General in a bumper [(drinking glass)]. (they drink.)
Montano.            Three times.
All.                        Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Montano.            Hip! Hip!
Cassio, to Iago.                Another bleat, my jolly fellow, tip.

John Poole, Othello-Travestie: In Three Acts. With Burlesque Notes, J. J. Stockdale, London, 1813.

The first attestations of the traditional hip-hip-hurrah format appeared in 1813. One attestation shows the phrase nearly in its final form:

The first toast “Success to Pill Garlick lick and his saucy crew,” was drank with nine times nine,hip! hip! hip! and a hoora! The tumult was excessive.

Edmond Temple, The Life of Pill Garlick, London, 1813.

A second attestation from 1813 finally shows the phrase in its traditional form.  It appears in a work of political satire, presented in the form of a group of letters supposedly recovered from a lost mail-bag.  The “letters” are printed with the names of the presumptive authors, recipients, and subjects of the letters partially redacted, but with enough showing that a contemporary reader would recognize who was being lampooned, criticized or made fun of, as the case may be, by the scandalous or amusing content. 

In an anti-Catholic letter from, “The Right Hon. P—TR—CK D—G—N—N” to “The Right Hon. Sir J—HN N—CH—L:

These Papist dogs – hiccup ---od rot ‘em!
Deserve to be bespatter’d ---hiccup---
With all the dirt ev’n you can pick up---
But, as the P—e—(here’s to him – fill –
Hip, hip, hurra!) – is trying still
To humbug them with kind professions,
And, as you deal in strong expressions –
Rogue – traitor – hiccup and all that –

Thomas Moore (writing as Thomas Brown), The Twopenny Post-bag: to Which are Added, Trifles, J. Carr, London, 1813.

Six years later, in 1819, Benjamin Silliman encountered hip-hip-hoorah up North, among the Canadians. 

Tom and Jerry


If hip-hip-hurrah had not yet reached universal familiarity or widespread usage by 1821, that would soon change.  In 1821, William Moncrieff’s play, Tom and Jerry: or, Life in London in 1820, an adaptation of Pierce Egan’s 1821 book, Life in London, opened on the London and American stage.  It would run in England until 1828, and sparked a Tom and Jerry “craze” in the United States.  

The play opens with Tom toasting Jerry:

Jerry. I beg leave to propose the health of my worthy friend, and staunch relation, Corinthian Tom, the London sportsman.  We’ll drink it with three if you please, gentlemen – Bumpers! Now then, are you all fill’d?

Omnes. All, all.

Jerry and Omnes drink. (all up-standing.) Hip, hip, hip, hurrah! Hip, hip, hip, hurrah! Hip, hip, hip, hurrah! Bravo! Bravo!

William Moncrieff, Tom and Jerry: or, Life in London in 1820, Thomas Hailes Lacy, London.

The name of the title-characters would eventually inspire a drink, a slang expression for a dive-bar, a cartoon cat and mouse and Simon and Garfunkle’s original stage name.  It may also have served to introduce the public to the traditional toast, “Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”  The play is also credited with popularizing the use of slang, generally, among the general public.  Tom and Jerry is listed as a source for dozens of entries in the massive, seven-volume slang dictionary, Slang and its Analogues Past and Present, published for subscribers only, serially, between 1890 and 1904.

And, Hip-Hip-Hurrah! was here to stay.

Hip-Hip-Hurrah is not anti-Semitic - Correcting a false etymology


An oft-repeated, but false, etymology of hip-hip-hooray speculates that hip-hip-hurrah derived from the phrase, Hep-Hep and the anti-Semitic, Hep-Hep riots that took place in Germany in 1819.  Those riots, however, took place long after the earliest uses of hip-hip-hurrah, or its variants, in 1811.

The history of hip-hip, as a neutral, attention-getting interjection, which was naturally suited to opening a toast or cheer, also further discredits the Hep-Hep rumor. 

To the extent that anyone might otherwise have been hesitant about enjoying a good hip-hip-hurrah, based on a purported relationship with anti-Semitic riots, go ahead and cheer without fear, guilt or reservation –



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