Q From Paul Wagner: Your use of hoo-ha this week prompts me to ask your learned advice on its origins, and on those of the possibly related idiom, just a bunch of hooey.
A So far as my sources know, hoo-ha and hooey are not related, though the evidence suggests that people do at times confuse them. Hoo-ha is the easy one; this has been recorded since the early 1930s, then as now with the sense of a commotion, a rumpus or a row (though T S Eliot used it early on with the idea of a fit of anxiety, so making it very close in meaning to a case of the heebie-jeebies, a sense I’m told it has also had in Australian slang). It has various spellings, such as hoo-hah, with and without the hyphen. It seems very likely that it came from Yiddish hu-ha for an uproar or hullabaloo, which in turn probably derives from a Polish exclamation.
Hooey has the main sense of nonsense or rubbish. It’s a little older than hoo-ha, being recorded first about 1912. Its origin is less well attested and none of the many dictionaries I consulted ventured an opinion. However, Jonathan Green, in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, suggests it might come from a Russian slang term for the penis.
There is also brouhaha, which looks as though it might be the original of hoo-ha, but it seems not to be, even though its first use in English goes back only a little further.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added pieces
Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach; Immensikoff; Habiliments; The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; Agister; The Word at War; Not so green as you’re cabbage-looking; Peely-wally; Draw a line in the sand; Porphyrogeniture; Set one’s cap at; Epicaricacy; Furthest and farthest; Hide one’s light under a bushel; Jentacular.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!