"Hip" in Football: Precursor to "Hut"?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Jan 14 06:28:02 UTC 2005

A couple of weeks ago Barry Popik inquired about the origin of the
quarterback's interjection "hut".  I recently came across David Feldman's
book of "Imponderables", _When Did Wild Poodles Roam the Earth?_, in which
he discusses the question.  Feldman's sources on football history all
agree that the quarterback's "hut" is modeled on the Army drill sergeant's
marching cadence of "hut 2-3-4".  That had been my guess.

One of the football historians also sent the following tidbit to Feldman,
suggesting that the preferred interjection was once "hip":

_Spalding's How to Play Football_, 1921
When shift formations are tried, the quarter-back should give his signal
when the men are in their original places. Then after calling the signal
[he] can use the word "hip" for the first shift and then repeat for the
players to take up their new positions on the line of scrimmage.

This seems a bit different from the use of "hut" since the '50s, which
doesn't necessarily signal a shift of the offensive line.  The quarterback
may signal for the center to snap the ball on the first, second, or third
"hut" without any shift being called.  But perhaps the origins of the
modern "hut" can be traced to this signal for a shift, most often
associated with Knute Rockne's teams at Notre Dame.  Some cites:

Lincoln Star (Nebraska), Oct 31, 1926, p. 7/4
Let us take a look at the Notre Dame offense. At the start it is as immune
from power as an 1888 formation would be if brought into play today.
Merely a balanced line and the old style backfield arrangement three backs
in a row with the quarter under center. Then comes the "Hip" and the backs
shift to either side of center into a "Z" formation, occasionally a second
"Hip," but always the play is off.
Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec 6, 1929, p. 28/2
Well, I went out to see Rockne all right and the youngest Rockne, aged 3,
was in the living room playing football with an older brother, and he was
calling signals and doing the Notre Dame shift with the "hip" as he
changed positions and everything.
New York Times, Oct 17, 1935, p. 30/2
The Blue quarterback barks: "One, two, three-- hip! One, two three"...
The Blue came rushing up to the line with renewed savage shouts. One, two,
three-- hip! One, two, three-- and away!
Gettysburg Compiler (Penn.), Dec 7, 1940, p. 4/7
"Listen, Stuhldreher! You're calling the 'hip' too slow! The whole point
of this shift is to catch our opponents by surpriseĀ—- off-balance! They
could knit a sweater between your signals!"

Interestingly, the "hip" signal of Rockne's quarterbacks might have evoked
not only marching cadences but also the "hip-hop" movement that the
offensive line made with every shift.  There are cites referring to the
Notre Dame shift with the terms "hip-hop", "hippity-hop", and
"hip-hip-hop" (half a century before "Rapper's Delight"!).

_Chicago Daily Tribune_ Oct 7, 1928, p. N3/8
There's that rhythmic shift of Rockne's-- one, two-- to the left--
hip-hop! ... Now watch that dancing sidestep, the whole back field moves
hippity-hop to the left in perfect tempo.
_Los Angeles Times_ Sep 18, 1931, p. II9/6
After more than an hour of this tough work, Spaulding started a length
signal drill with the teams aligned as mentioned above. The Bruin coach
has his backs counting one, two, three, a la Notre Dame, on their
hip-hip-hop shift.

--Ben Zimmer

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