Minnesota Rugby captain John Adams had heard [Sioux] boys yell "ski-yoo!" when they won canoe races on Lake Minnetonka. He incorrectly interpreted that phrase as the Sioux word for victory, or exultation and suggested it as a cheer for the University rugby team. A co-captain added the "mah" to make it rhyme with "rah" and created "Ski-U-Mah!" The slogan has been used to cheer on the Minnesota Golden Gophers athletics teams, and was written into the lyrics of University songs including the "Minnesota Rouser", "Go Gopher Victory", "Minnesota Fight" and "Minnesota March".
Dakota–Lakota specialists state that the word "Ski-U" or "Ski-yoo" or "Ski-oo" are not Sioux victory cries or the Sioux word for winning. What Adams heard on Lake Pepin, "sky-yoo," may have just been an interjection, similar to "woo hoo."
Other Dakota-Lakota words or phrases that have been suggested for what Adams heard include:
- "Scheeh" or "scheen-shay" which means "Try Hard"
- "Schkee ooh poh!" or "Scheee ooh!" meaning "Try hard, come on!"
- "Oh-hee-yah" which means "To win"
- "Oh-hee-un-yum" or "oh-hee-oohn-yum" which means "We won"
The slogan has had other uses at the university through the years. In the mid-20th century, Ski-U-Mah was a University of Minnesota humor magazine. It is currently used on the football team's helmets and jerseys, as the name of a meeting room at the McNamara Alumni Center, a campus tailgate lot/parking lot near TCF Bank Stadium, and as the title of a yearbook-style publication put out by the Minnesota Daily.
Ski U Mah is said to refer to the name of a Prohibition-era speakeasy near the campus. Ski Yu Mah Lounge, where players and the local cultural elite gathered after games. The Gopher football team was at its most prominent during the Prohibition era and the use of the phrase in the school rouser is said to be a holdover in commemoration of that era.
- Croman, John (2007-04-01). "I've Been Wondering: Ski-U-Mah?". KARE 11 News. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
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