skyrocket cheer (1860)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Nov 21 21:12:07 UTC 2005

There's some discussion on alt.usage.english about "sis-boom-bah". OED says it
represents "the sound of a skyrocket: a hissing flight (sis), an explosion
(boom), and an exclamation of delight from the spectators (bah, ah)."

Under "skyrocket", OED has:

2. transf. An enthusiastic cheer, raised esp. by college students; =
SIS-BOOM-BAH. U.S. slang.
1867 Ball Players' Chron. (N.Y.) 25 July 2/2 After cheers had been interchanged,
and the Nationals had let off a 'sky rocket'--namely a sort of finish to three
cheers, with a 'hiss--boom--ah!'--an adjournment was had to the clubhouse.

The original "skyrocket cheer" was apparently associated with New York's Seventh
Regiment. _Vanity Fair_ published a verse in 1860 dedicated to the Seventh
Regiment called "The Sky-Rocket Cheer". Here is the refrain:

  "With his ch-h-h! boom! ah;
  Fol-de-rol de riddle-diddle, ch-h-h! boom!! ah!!!"
  _Vanity Fair_, Mar. 10, 1860, p. 164/1
  [Making of America: <>]

Barry Popik has found references to "sis-boom-bah" in The Princetonian going
back to 1881, as well as a reference to the use of the skyrocket cheer at the
first football game between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869:

Donna Richoux found this page, which provides the missing link between the
Seventh Regiment and Princeton:

     Cheers became a part of the Princeton student's way
     of life sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s.
     The first cheer, ``Hooray, hooray, hooray! Tiger
     siss-boom-ah, Princeton!'' was adapted from the
     ``skyrocket'' cheer of the Seventh Regiment of New
     York City. Princetonians of the early 1860s
     remembered fifty years later hearing the Seventh
     Regiment give this cheer from their railroad coaches
     at the Princeton depot on their way to Washington, a
     few days after the outbreak of the Civil War. But a
     member of the Class of 1860 was pretty sure that he
     had heard a classmate give the rocket cheer in
     Professor Schenck's chemistry class in the spring of
     their senior year.

More here: <>.

--Ben Zimmer

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