A hoo-ha ('hü-"hä) is a noun meaning a “chortle or laugh: got a good hoo-ha out of that story” It can also be,”A fuss; a disturbance: “the subject of this last hoo-hah” (William Safire).

This hyphenated phrase for a surprised exclamation or uproar may have come from a similar word brouhaha, but many authorities disagree. Others may understandably think it’s related to hooey as in, That's a bunch of hooey. A little older than hoo-ha, hooey was recorded first sometime around 1912 as slang for nonsense or rubbish.

Most etymologists say is in all probability it is derived from the Yiddish word hu-ha meaning an uproar or hullabaloo. Jonathan Green, in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, puts forward it might come from a Russian slang term for the penis.

First recorded sometime during the early 1930s it’s commonly used in the sense of a commotion, a rumpus or a row. Earlier T.S. Eliot used the colloquialism for a disorderly outburst or tumult turning it onto a surreal slice of life as a brown study. He exploits the phrase as an image to convey the idea of a fit of anxiety making it very close in meaning to a case of the heebie-jeebies, a sense of the word that some say also shares its origins in Australian colloquial speech. Eliot expresses all the terror and fear of a relentless pursuit of hoo-ha's in his final chorus from Sweeney Agonistes(1926),page 126:

    When you're alone in the middle of the night and
    you wake in a sweat and a hell of a fright
    When you're alone in the middle of the bed and
    you wake like someone hit you on the head
    You've had a cream of a nightmare dream and
    you've got the hoo-ha's coming to you.
    Hoo hoo hoo
    You dreamt you waked up at seven o'clock and it's
    foggy and it's damp and it's dawn and it's dark
    And you wait for a knock and the turning of a lock
    for you know the hangman's waiting for you.
    And perhaps you're alive
    And perhaps you're dead
    Hoo ha ha
    Hoo ha ha
You might be interested to know that this is a contemporary adaptation of the 'Hounds of Heaven' theme; the Furies will not only disturb, infers the poet, but much more than that they will hunt down to mete out punishment. The purposes of the play’s all-persuasive rhythm gain further significance. By expanding the phrase then repeating the pounding portentous rhythm, words contribute to supporting and escalating a looming menace of the hounding, audibly re-enacting the hunt; the pursuit of feet close in upon its prey. Hoo-has embody an almost sadistic pulse-beat of the hunter and the hunted.

And after all that hoo-ha, I can tell you no one knows for sure how hoo-ha originated though it first surfaced early in the 20th century. Synonyms for this slang word for commotion are : disturbance, disruption, commotion, turmoil, stir, flutter, hurly burly, to-do, and kerfuffle.


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000.

The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press 1996.

World Wide Words:

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