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Wahoos, or Hoos for short, is an unofficial nickname for sports teams of the University of Virginia, officially referred to as the Cavaliers. The terms are both also used in a more general context by students and alumni to refer to themselves as fans and alumni of the University.
The nickname is a back-formation from the school's yell, "wa-hoo-wa."
Official University of Virginia sports documents explain that Washington and Lee baseball fans first called University of Virginia players "a bunch of rowdy Wahoos," and used the "Wahoowa" yell as a form of derision during the in-state baseball rivalry in the 1890s, presumably after hearing them yell or sing "wa-hoo-wa." The term "Wahoos" caught on around the University and was commonly in use by the 1940s. "'Hoos" has emerged as an equally common accepted nickname throughout Grounds in student publications. In recent years, the Hoos nickname has become a nickname used by students and recent alumni of the University, and it is also commonly used in the media in reference to U.Va. sports teams.
The yell was invented as an Indian yell for Dartmouth College by Dartmouth student Daniel Rollins in 1878. Corks & Curls, the University of Virginia annual, regularly printed lists of the yells and colors of the various colleges; in 1888 it included Dartmouth's school yell, a part of which was the phrase "wa-hoo-wa." University of Virginia students soon incorporated the phrase "wa-hoo-wa" into their own, longer school yell, and individual U.Va. fraternities also adopted it and modified it. (It was common for "student culture" to travel: the University of Illinois also adopted "wa-hoo-wa," and the tune of the Yale "Boola Boola", for example, became the basis of the "Boomer-Sooner" song of the University of Oklahoma.) (Dartmouth students, meanwhile, largely stopped using the Indian yell during the 1980s along with the accompanying Indian mascots, symbols, and nickname.)
The yell was already in use by the time Nathalie Floyd Otey performed at the Levy Opera House in Charlottesville on January 30, 1893. She sang a song specifically about the town and University titled "Wa-Hoo-Wa" that began, "Oh, Charlottesville, illustrious name,/ The home of Jefferson you claim;/ The lap of learning, font of fame—" and was set to the tune of "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay," with the catchy chorus sung as "Wa-hoo-wa you-vee-ay." Otey's song was popular enough with students that Corks & Curls printed it in 1894.
(Legend, however, states that Otey sang "Where'er You Are, There Shall My Love Be". The student audience decided to join in the refrain of the song and by the end of the play the crowd turned the words "Where'er You Are" into "Wah Hoo Wah." Both events might have occurred, since an enthusiastic student audience might reasonably be presumed to sing along with Otey after hearing her sing "Wah-Hoo-Wah.")
A common explanation by students and alumni of the term's popularity is that it references the fish Acanthocybium solandri, purported to have the ability to drink up to twice its body weight daily.
The Good Old Song
The "wa-hoo-wa" yell is memorialized in The Good Old Song, the de facto alma mater of the University of Virginia written in the mid-1890s, which describes "the good old song of Wa-Hoo-Wa." The song is sung by the spectators at Virginia sports events after a score.