Yee-ha(w) / "Rebel yell"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Dec 4 21:54:55 UTC 2006


  My formerly reliable memory tells me that the horse-opera use of "yeeha(w)" was something like "giddyup," but applicable to bovine situationsas well.  That might explain the "yeeha(w)" in _Red River_, assuming it's really in the scene in question.

  A cattle-managing "yeeha(w)" is of interest too. But what I'm thinking of, specifically, is the "yeeha(w)" that means "My visceral reaction to this situation is exceedingly positive !"  Cattle and other quadrupeds are not usually present when "yeeha(w)" is currently exclaimed, though they are never ruled out.

  Can anyone adduce a cinematic, musical, literary, or real-world yeeha(w)" in the current sense earlier than 1975 ?

  Pt. 2

  Allen Walker Read probed to determine the precise sound of "the rebel yell" in an article published in _AS_ during the CW Centennial, "The Rebel Yell as Linguistic Problem" 36,(May, 1961)  83-92. My faulty recollection (cf. above) conflated Read's pioneering work with a couple of follow-ups, "A Footnote on the Rebel Yell," by M. B. Darwin, 38,  (Autumn, 1973), 303-04, and "More on the Rebel Yell" by "Quidnunc," 54 (Spring, 1979), 60.

  Read's findings may be summarized as follows:

  1. Confederate soldiers in Northern Virgina often uttered a sound that a veteran English war correspondent described in 1861 as "a shrill ringing scream with a touch of the Indian war-whoop in it."  He noted hyperbolically that "certainly the Southern soldiers cannot cheer."

  2. An English military observer noted shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg that Confederate soldiers "always yell in a manner peculiar to themselves. The Yankee cheer is much more like ours." He refrred to the sounds as "the Rebel yell."

  3. A number of other observers in various parts of the South, mostly Northerners, commented on the peculiar quality of rebel yelling during and shortly after the Civil War.  It was compared to a kind of "Indian war-whoop" and a "wolf-howl."

  4. An ancient veteran demonstrated his "rebel yell" to an assemblage of re-enactors in 1935.
  An ear witness explained that it came out as "wahHOOOOOeeeee!"  He said, "Considering the frailty of its source, it was an unbelievable yell....It had a keening, ululant quality that raised the hackles on my neck." It took the writer and the other ersatz rebels "a few weeks" of practice to get the yell right.

  5. A Confederate veteran, writing in 1892, rendered the yell as "Woh-who-ey! Who-ey! Who-ey! Woh-who-ey !" Rather like the 1935 demonstration.  Another veteran, writing in 1905, preferred "Yai! Yai! Yi! Yai! Yi!"  (A different set of sounds, but still not "Yeeha[w]!")

  Darwin 1973 makes the interesting suggesting that the stereotypical yell was inspired by fox-hunting cries and the howling of hunting dogs.  "Quidnunc" discovered that the suggestion had been made independently, by H. Allen Smith, as early as 1954.

  None of the three "rebel yell" scholars mentions a "Yee-ha(w)!," That indiricetly supports my contention that its current use entered the repertoire of "wow-like" sounds circa 1970.

  Does country-western deserve the credit ?  (I inadvertently omitted "yippee!" from my childhood knowledge of yee-ha(w)-like joyus interjections.)


  "hpst at" <hpst at EARTHLINK.NET> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "hpst at"
Subject: Re: Yee-ha(w) / "Rebel yell"


Since you served in the army after it was integrated you probably never
heard some of the overtly racist comments which my father heard in 1943
when he was going through basic training but since you mentioned North
Caroliniians I thought you might appreciate this story.

Apparently one day one of his fellow draftees who was from North Carolina
received a letter from his father who told him that it had been snowing so
bad that the snow was "asshole deep on a nine foot nigger." which is if
nothing else is descriptive.

Dad, now long deceased, never told me about rebel yells, but he always
remembered that phrase which stuck in his mind.

For better or for worse since I have never heard it before or since I think
it needs to be preserved.


> [Original Message]
> From: Wilson Gray
> To:
> Date: 12/4/2006 2:00:02 PM
> Subject: Re: [ADS-L] Yee-ha(w) / "Rebel yell"
> In one of his bits, Richard Pryor reproduced the yell as "Yee-haw!"
> explaining that, when he heard it, he knew that it was time to leave.
> However, when I was in the Army, Edgar J. Mackey, Jr., from somewhere
> 'nother in North Carolina, had a different version. Unfortunately,
> Eg-guh gave the yell only when he was drunk and, even then, he had to
> be asked. And, if Eg-guh was drunk, so was everyone else. Hence, I
> can't recall what his yell sounded like, except that it was quite loud
> and wasn't "yee-ha(w)." In addition, I had earlier read an article
> somewhere 'nother that debunked the Rebel Yell, claiming that it was
> folklore and there was not and never had been any such thing as a
> Rebel Yell. I believed this article, so, even if I had been sober, I
> wouldn't have paid no 'taynchun to Eg-guh's rendition of the supposed
> yell.
> As for "yee-ha(w)," this was heard in a million horse operas, during
> my childhood, with no one defining it as having anything to do with
> the War of Northern Aggression.
> -Wilson
> On 12/4/06, Charles Doyle wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > Sender: American Dialect Society
> > Poster: Charles Doyle
> > Subject: Re: Yee-ha(w) / "Rebel yell"
> >
> >
> > I'd never thought about it before, but are we to suppose that Swift's
yahoos are so called because they go around ejaculating "YA-HOO!"? (Those
creatures WERE, after all, rebels of a sort.)
> >
> > --Charlie
> > _____________________________________
> >
> > ---- Original message ----
> > >Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2006 06:32:01 -0800
> > >From: Jonathan Lighter
> > >Subject: Yee-ha(w) / "Rebel yell"
> > >
> > >
> > >It's the 21st C., so why be surprised, as I was, at the appearance of
exclamatory "Yee-ha!" in Australia: . Also:
> > >
> > > 2001 Matthew Reilly _Area 7_ (Rpt. N.Y.: St. Martin's, 2002) 175:
Beside her, Elvis was yelling, "Yee-ha!" as he rained hell on the 7th
Squadron men with the minigun.
> > >
> > > "Yee-ha!" / ji:::: ' ha:::: / is frequently known as "the rebel
yell," but 19th C. descriptions of that yell (or those yells), analyzed by
Allen Walker Read in _AS_ long ago show that its dominant effect was not
> > >
> > > I grew up in a bluebelly ethos where "whoopee" and "yahoo" and
"wahoo" were familiar from movie westerns and the phrase "rebel yell" was
used only in history books.
> > >
> > > I first became conscious of "Yee-ha !" in 1974 or ' 75. Since then
it has been yelled everywhere. But when did this popularity begin. There's
a "famous 'Yeehaw!' scene," it sez here, in _Red River_ (1948), but I can't
recall whether the yell (prefaced by 'Take 'em to Missouri, Matt!") sounded
like "Yeehaw!" or something else.
> > >
> > > A West Indian "yee ha" from 1877 is readily findable through Google
Books, but it seems like nonsense syllables rather than any kind of yell.
> > >
> > > Phonetically it's related to "hee-haw," but there all similarity
> > >
> > > Thoughts? Early cites ? Any connection to Yeehaw Junction,
Florida? (Under "yeehaw," OED's earliest is 1977, despite appearances.)
> > >
> > > JL
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> >
> --
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> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -----
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