Shouting for joy: Hip! Hip! Hurrah!

01:00 Thu 14th Mar 2002 |

Q. Not Hurray

A. Can be. And hooray.

Q. So, where does it come from

A. The origins of hip are obscure, and the only explanation - and this is deemed pretty fanciful by many - is that hip is a notarikon of Hierosolyma est perdita, which means 'Jerusalem is destroyed'. Apparently medieval German knights while engaged in persecuting Jews would shout 'Hip! Hip!' as their rallying cry.

Q. Notarikon

A. Something like an acronym, though the letters can be taken from any position in the word, not just the initial. It's a technique made much use of in cabalistic circles, so has a great deal of power in Jewish mystical tradition. (Another well-known example of this is Ichthys, the Greek word for fish, which is an acronym of Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter - Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour - and was used in the early Christian era as a euphemism for Christ. The Ichthys symbol, a basic line drawing of the outline of a fish, seems to be making a comeback, particularly on cars.)

Q. And does this hip have anything with being cool and trendy

A. Not at all. Hip is a variation of hep, which gained currency in the 1950s, though no one seems to have been able to unearth its derivation. Hippies, hipsters and hep cats were those who were hip or hep.

Q. And hurray

A. The more whimsical theory is that the word is derived from the Slavonic hu-raj, which meant 'to Paradise'. So put hip and hurrah together and you have, 'Jerusalem is destroyed and we are on our way to Paradise'. Hurrah and hooray are both, in fact, variations on 'huzza', which seems to have its origins as a sailors' cheer.

Q. Sailors, eh What other words and phrases started life as shipboard argot, then

A. There are loads, but here are a few that we should all recognise:

Above board: Things 'above board' were on or above the upper deck and so open for all to see

Ackers: Naval slang name for any foreign currency, though now used to mean any money; it comes from 'Piastres', a Levantine currency, and was what beggars would call out when asking for alms

Bear up: Meaning 'keep your spirits up', it originated as a sailing expression, meaning to bear the tiller up to windward in order to keep the vessel's head away from the wind

Bilge: Bilge water is the water which collects in the bilges of a ship, which, if left, gets pretty rank

Brass monkeys: A monkey was a brass rack for storing cannon balls; sometimes, if particularly cold, the rack would contract and eject the balls, hence 'freeze the balls off...'

No room to swing a cat: cat-o'-nine tails rather than the feline variety

Chew the fat: In the sense of to yack on, it is possibly derived from the considerable jaw work involved in chewing the dried meat that ships were provisioned with before the days of refrigerators or canned meat

Chock a block, chocker: Meaning 'full up', it derives from the use of a hauling tackle; when the two blocks of the purchase were touching each other the lower one could be hoisted no further and so the work was completed

Between the devil and the deep blue sea: On a wooden ship the 'devil' is the top plank of the hull, so a person working over the ship's side below this plank was working in a very uncertain position

Fag end: 'To fag' is to separate or tease out the strands of a rope, thus the 'fag end' is the extreme end

Gen: Common slang name for official information; originally a Naval word derived from General Signal

The head: Lavatories were usually sited in the extreme bow - or head - of the ship

Cut of his jib: describing someone's facial appearance or demeanour, it comes from the days of sail when a ship's nationality could often be told at a distance by the cut of her sails

By and large: Meaning 'broadly speaking', it comes from the nautical terms to sail a boat 'by' the wind (into weather), but 'large' (not very close to the wind)

Make up leeway: Leeway is the drift which a ship makes away from the direction from which the wind is blowing, so to make it up, in popular usage is to make up distance or lost time.

Perks: Naval abbreviation of the word 'perquisites', meaning allowances that went with a particular appointment

Pressgang: The pressgang targeted 'eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 55 years' and forced them into the Navy, hence the modern usage; interestingly the laws authorising pressgangs' activities have never actually been repealed, so watch out next time you're in Portsmouth

Push the boat out: A naval expression meaning to stand drinks all round, hence make a splash

Swing the lead: Derived from the leadsman going through the motions of taking depth-soundings without actually doing so

The sun is over the yardarm: Originally a Naval officers' expression meaning that it was time for a drink; it was bad form to have a drink on board before sun is over the yard arm, that is, approaching noon

See also the answerbank article on acronyms

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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