IPA: /ˈ huː ʔəⁿˌ næni/

Other sources claim a UK pronunciation of /ˈ hutənæni/. This is definitely not the pronunciation used by the Appalachians who commonly use this word, which features a prominent glottal stop.

Etymology: Disputed

While the strict earliest use (and meaning) of 'hootenanny' is unknown, modern linguists reasonably suspect it originated in Scotland, with both Scots and Gàidhlig being plausible source languages, as both have phonology and morphology compatible with the sound and structure of the word, and both languages were historically used by populations with significant migration to the Appalachian region of the United States, where the word eventually took root in common usage.


"Jed, mind passing me the - oh, the red hootenanny on that shelf over there?"

"I heard y'all had quite the hootenanny th'other night across the holler. Who'd you find to play fiddle?"

"Fire Chief says he's going to give a talk for Hootenanny in the Hills tonight; they're raising funds for the volunteer FD."

Migration and Evolution

Since arriving in Appalachia, hootenanny has developed three meanings, presented here from earliest to most recent:

Hootenanny's earliest documented meaning is a concrete object placeholder, synonymous with thingamajig, thingummy, whatchamacallit, doodad, etc.

Its most common present meaning is an informal social gathering (largely synonymous with shindig, barn dance, and hoedown) in which folk musicians (especially Bluegrass bands) gather, and which typically includes folk dancing (potentially treated as a rural courtship activity) and the presence of homemade alcoholic drinks such as moonshine. Of these components, only the folk music is a strict requirement, but the absence of the other two features is both unlikely and considered an indicator of a failed hootenanny. Hootenannies in the last twenty years have featured less emphasis on dancing and social mixing among local families, and greater emphasis on music performance and preservation of Appalachian music culture. To this end, they feature seating rather than a dance floor for the attendees, and musicians are invited - sometimes from several states away - to take turns performing on a stage with an open mic, as well as to form ad hoc small groups, similar to impromptu jazz jam sessions.

In the 2000s and 2010s, the word has also come to mean any fundraiser for a rural volunteer fire department, or any organisational meeting between the lead officers of multiple fire stations that serve adjacent cities or counties. The fundraiser variety of hootenanny converges with the more common use of the word 'hootenanny,' as Bluegrass bands often busk or perform paid-admission shows, then donating their proceeds to the fire department. These events also tend to feature entertainment directed at all ages, to stir community interest and support for the fire department; as such, features like quilt raffles, penny carnivals, petting zoos, and a dunking booth are commonly included. These events tend to be timed to coincide with autumnal festivities like Halloween and Thanksgiving, to account for autumn and winter (the times of year when woodburning stoves are most likely to be used in homes) being the seasons of greatest fire risk in rural areas. These seasonal hootenannies usually include pie-baking contests and apple bobbing. They also tend to involve canned food drives for local charity soup kitchens, toy drives for children of families without the means to buy Christmas gifts, and collections of blankets and winter clothing.

Iron Noder 2019, 4/30

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