“Hip Hip” in “Hip Hip, Hooray” Was Once an Anti-Semitic Phrase

hip hip hoorayToday I Found Out the “Hip Hip” in “Hip Hip, Hooray” was once anti-Semitic.

This phrase is thought to have its origins in the middle-age Latin battle-cry “Hieroslyma est perdita’, which means “Jerusalem is fallen” or “Jerusalem is lost”.  This was later shortened by Germanic tribes fighting Jews to “Hep Hep Hu-raj”, meaning loosely “Jerusalem is fallen and we are on the way to paradise.”  This also found its way into a Hungarian battle cry “Huj Huj Hajrá”, which more or less just meant “faster, faster”.  An alternative theory is that it comes from a Germanic shepherds cry or a hunter’s cry “hep hep”, which was used to rally their trained dogs.  It is also possible that this shepherds cry was not the origin, but rather itself was from the proposed Germanic battle cry “Hep Hep Huraj”.

Whether one of the above origins is true or not, “hep hep” was the rallying cry of the rioters in the “Hep Hep Riots” of the 19th century.  These riots against the Jews began on August 2, 1819 in Würzburg, Germany.  They subsequently spread across parts of Denmark, Poland, Latvia, and Bohemia.  In many regions, troops had to be called in to prevent the mass massacre of the Jewish population in those areas.  Most Jews quickly fled the cities at the start of the riots and camped out in remote regions until things calmed down, eventually returning to their often destroyed homes.  As one Jew, Rahel Varnhagen, who had converted to Christianity and thus was relatively safe in the riots stated:

I am infinitely sad on account of the Jews, in a way I have never experienced before… What should this mass of people do, driven out of their homes? They want to keep them only to despise and torture them further… I know my country. Unfortunately. For the past three years I’ve said the Jews will be attacked. I have witnesses. The Germans wax bold with indignation, and why? Because they are the most civilized, peace-loving, and obedient people… Their newfound hypocritical love for Christianity (may God forgive my sin) and the Middle Ages, with its poetry, art, and atrocities, incites the people to commit the only atrocity they may still be provoked to: attacking the Jews!… Their hate does not stem from religious zeal: how can they hate other faiths when they don’t even love their own?

At some point after these Hep Hep Riots, it’s not entirely known when, this now anti-Semitic rallying cry of “hep hep” became “hip hip” and the response cry of “hooray” became traditional.

Bonus Facts:

  • In English “hep” means “aware, up-to-date”, with the first recorded usage as an English word in a 1908 Saturday Evening Post article.
  • The variant of “hep”, “hip” as meaning “informed”, also first appeared in English in the early 20th century and is more or less what “hep” meant as well in English; so it is possible the two words simply diverged due to accents of those speaking the word, which then made its way into print with different middle letters.
  • The exact origins of “hooray” are also just as mysterious as “hep hep”.  Some think it came from the 17th century sailor’s cheer, “huzzah”, which itself has unknown origins.  Other’s think it’s from a Mongolian exclamation of a similar sound, which is meant to be a cry of bravado.  Others think it is from the 10th century Hungarian “Hajrá”, as in the above “Huj Huj Hajrá”, which itself might be from the Germanic “Hep Hep Hu-raj”.
  • “Hip Hip Hooray” was originally introduced to the Redskins American Football team by George Allen in the early 1970s.  It was later unintentionally re-introduced by rookie head coach Jim Zorn, who initiated the cry after the Redskins pulled a major upset over the Dallas Cowboys; he did this mimicking something he learned from former head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Chuck Knox, who used to do it in the late 1970s.  When the Redskins won again the next week, the players initiated the cry this time.  This has since caught on and become somewhat of a tradition among Redskin fans and players.
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