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Huzzah (sometimes written hazzah; originally huzza, and in most modern varieties of English hurrah or hooray) is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), "apparently a mere exclamation". The dictionary does not mention any specific derivation. Whatever its origins, it has seen occasional literary use since at least the time of Shakespeare, as the first use was in 1573, according to Merriam-Webster.
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Huzzah may be categorised with such interjections as hoorah and hooray. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "In English, the form hurrah is literary and dignified; hooray is usual in popular acclamation".
In common usage, such as cheers at sporting events and competitions, the speaker need not make distinction, and the words are distinguished by regional dialect and accent.
Origin and military usage
The origin of the word in its various forms is not clear, but it may have been influenced by war cries from various languages: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) suggests Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Russian and Prussian words that may have played a part. Jack Weatherford asserts that it comes from the Mongolian Hurree; used by Mongol armies, and spread throughout the world during the Mongol Empire of the 13th century, but he does not appear to present any supporting evidence. Weatherford says that in Mongolian Hurree is a sacred praise much like amen or hallelujah.
Often incorrectly used at Renaissance Festivals and American Revolution reinactments, Huzzah was originally spelled Huzza and pronounced huz-ZAY. By looking at the poetry and writings of the late 1700s you see words like say, play, and day which are used to rhyme with Huzza. In the song "Keppel Forever" we get this:
"Bonfires, bells did ring; Keppel was all the ding,
Music did play;
Windows with candles in, for all to honor him:
People aloud did sing, “Keppel! Huzza!”"
In Shakespeare's Henry IV, written around 1591, Act III, Scene III the last line is:
All: Huzza! Huzza! Huzza! Long live the King!
The OED notes that in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was identified as a sailor's cheer or salute, and suggests that it was possibly related to words like heeze and hissa, which are cognates of hoist.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, three 'huzzahs' were given by British infantry before a bayonet charge, as a way of building morale and intimidating the enemy. The book Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket by military historian Richard Holmes indicates that this was given as two short 'huzzahs', followed by a third sustained one as the charge was carried out.
- ...For example, while attacking to their enemies, they (Turks) used to shout 'Ur Ah!' which means 'Come on, hit!' (in modern Turkish vur hadi!) Then this exclamation turned into 'Hurrah!' in [the] West...
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- OED[permanent dead link]
- "Huzzah". dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
- Weatherford, Jack (2004). Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Crown, Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80964-4.
- "You say 'huzzah', they sad 'huzzay'"
- Anon., “Keppel Forever,” 1779, Roxburghe Ballads, 8: 325. [Reprinted in Naval Songs and Ballads, 257-258.]