Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Thu Apr 7 08:29:39 UTC 2005

The July 1926 "burger" cite from the Penn State Collegian also has "Alley
Oop" as a diner interjection.  (It appeared as "Alleyoop" in a Collegian
article earlier that month about the opening of the same diner.)

I don't see "alley-oop" in OED or HDAS, and MW11 only has the basketball
sense.  AHD and RHUD have the interjection:

AHD <>
Used to signal the start of a strenuous activity, such as lifting.
Used as a shout of encouragement, exhortation, or the like, esp. when
coordinating efforts to lift a heavy object.

AHD gives this etymology:

French <allez-oop>, cry of circus acrobat about to leap, from <allez>, pl.
imperative of <aller>, to go, from Old French <aler>, to walk.

I found "allez-oop" back to 1923 in a circus context.  "Alley Oop" first
shows up on Proquest as the name of a race-horse (of course) in 1925, and
the more general exhortation appears in 1926:

1923 _Chronicle Telegram_ (Elyria, Ohio) 1 Feb. 11/2 Allez-oop! Hoop-la!
Popcorn, peanuts and pink lemonade!!! Everybody seems to be ready for the
big circus except the public.
1925 _New York Times_ 23 Mar. 12/3 First Race - Four two-year-old maidens;
purse $600; four furlongs. ... Alley Oop 112.
1926 _Collegian_ (Penn State) 3 July 1/6 Meanwhile, step right up and see
the food cooked right under your eyes. Alleyoop!
1926 _Collegian_ (Penn State) 22 July 1/2 "Two burgers on one," the order
goes. "Alley Oop," Bill comes back.
1926 _Chicago Tribune_ 20 Nov. 8/5 Comes now the time of the year when we
out-of-towners want to know what the price of the 1926 Linebooks will be
in Chicago. Alley oop!

The expression got a big boost in 1932 when the V. T. Hamlin launched the
comic strip "Alley Oop" featuring the eponymous caveman (the Hollywood
Argyles had a hit song based on the comic strip in 1960).

The first sporting usage was evidently not in basketball but in football,
to describe the "blooper" pass used by Y. A. Tittle and R. C. Owens in the
49ers' 1957 season:

1957 _Reno Evening Gazette_ (Nevada) 4 Nov. 14/3 Tittle commented about
yesterday's winning play: "I decided to go for the Alley-Oop pass. I knew
I had to lay it in the end zone, high, and I just rared back and threw as
hard as I could."
1957 _Washington Post_ 18 Nov. A16/1 Even the alley-oop pass from Tittle
to R. C. Owens failed today, so the 49ers settled for a 22-yeard field

"Alley-Oop pass" soon was applied to basketball, first associated with
Jerry Lucas of Ohio State:

1959 _Lima News_ (Ohio) 8 Dec. 13/1 Siegfried's specialty rapidly is
becoming basketball's version of the Alley-Oop pass perfected by Y. A.
Tittle and R. C. Owens of the pro-football 49ers. He lobs the ball high in
the air in the direction of the hoop and the agile Lucas leaps and directs
it in with a one hand tip.
1961 _New York Times_ 26 Mar. S1/8 When play resumed, John Havlicek, the
big forward, tossed a high pass toward the bucket. Lucas, in what is
called an Alley-Oop Special, was ready to leap and tap it in.

(MW11 gives a date of 1967 for the basketball sense.)

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list