hoot(er) (was: foutre)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Aug 30 03:29:24 UTC 2000

At 10:27 PM -0400 8/29/00, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>Question: What is the real origin of 'hoot' in the expression "I
>don't give a hoot"?  (^_^)
Not sure; this is one of an indefinitely large catalogue of
expressions of minimal quantity used (in English and many other
languages) in negative polarity contexts as what Bolinger called
'stereotyped equivalents of ANY'.  The OED isn't sure, either,
suggesting a possible link with either the owl's interjectional hoot
or the noun denoting 'a short outcry', attested since 1600, but it
also signals a connection with "hooter", attested earlier in the same
range of negative contexts, including the following.  (Note that the
1839 citation includes two polarity items in the same expression.)

1839 Havana (N.Y.) Republican 21 Aug. (Th.), Now the Grampus [sc. a
vessel] stopt, and didn't buge [= budge] one hooter.

1889 Commercial (Cincinnati) 17 Oct., It has not harmed the
Republican cause in Ohio a hooter.

1896 Harper's Mag. XCII. 784/1 Now I can have all I want, I don't
care a hooter!

1900 E. A. Dix Deacon Bradbury xii, `Do you mean that you don't know
anything about the matter at all?'..`Not a hooter.'

as for "hoot" itself, the first cite in the OED for the relevant item
(hoot-2) is the only one that does not include a negative context,
for what it's worth:

1878 J. H. Beadle Western Wilds xxxviii. 615, I got onto my reaper
and banged down every hoot of it before Monday night.


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