Why is ‘hip hip hooray’ offensive? Cigna language guidance prompts questions

Bruno Cooke March 23, 2021
Why is ‘hip hip hooray’ offensive? Cigna language guidance prompts questions

Why is hip hip hooray offensive? Is it actually offensive? Right-leaning news website the Washington Examiner reported last week that health insurance provider Cigna was “subjecting” its employees to critical race theory lessons. Among the phrases allegedly flagged by Cigna as non-inclusive is “hip hip hooray”.

What does ‘hip hip hooray’ mean?

“Hip hip hooray”, or alternatively “hippy hip hooray”, also sometimes spelled “hoorah”, “hurrah” or “hurray” (also related: “huzzah”), is an English language cheer.

Sometimes it takes the form of call and response, with one person shouting “hip hip” to a crowd, who responds, “hooray”. 

This typically happens three times, as in, “Three cheers for [insert name, event or phenomenon]”.

Cute Syrian hamster passionately shouting into a microphone, whilst gripping mic stand.

By an individual, “hip hip hooray” is a form of interjection – an expression of spontaneous feeling – although it’s probably uncommon for people to actually say it by themselves.

The phrase apparently reached its modern form in 1813, with the publication of Edmond Temple’s The Life of Pill Garlick.

Why is ‘hip hip hooray’ offensive?

There are those, for example the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), that purportedly trace the anti-semitic origins of the phrase.

An entry in Ohr Somayach’s Ask The Rabbi section includes the question:

I once heard that the expression, “Hip, hip, hurrah!” has anti-Semitic roots. The reason given was that during pogroms in Europe and Russia, excited masses would scream, “Hierosylma est Perdita,” Latin for “Jerusalem is lost,” which later was shortened to its acronym, “hep.” Is there any truth to this?

Roots in Hep-Hep riots?

The rabbi responded that ‘hip hip hooray’ does have anti-semitic origins. 

Allegedly, during the Nazi regime, “rioters in Europe sometimes shouted ‘Hep! Hep!’ while on prowl for Jews.” He also cites the so-called Hep-Hep riots as evidence.

The Hep-Hep riots occurred in 1819, and were pogroms against Ashkenazi Jews that began in the Kingdom of Bavaria.

Or a German goatherd call?

However, the rabbi also recognises that historian Robert Michael, despite “looking for years”, has been unable to find any authoritative source for the phrase.

Instead, Michael apparently says, there are “lots of arguments from German historians who feel it is just a call as for goats to get moving.”

For its own part, the Colorado State University’s Inclusive Language Guide states that Nazis used “hep hep” as a rallying cry when searching for Jews in the ghettos.

They also assert that “hip-hip hooray” developed directly from “hep hep”.

So, what is the likely origin of ‘hip hip hooray’?

The Straight Dope (TSD) repeats other theories, but also criticises them. 

For example, some claim “hip hip hooray” is a derivation of Hierusylema best perdita, or “Jerusalem is lost”; however, TSD concedes, it is unlikely that German goatherds were proficient Latin scholars.

Their most plausible explanation is simply that the common cheer, “hip hip hooray”, and the call, “Hep! Hep!” have a common origin that goes even farther back.

How does this relate to Cigna’s language guidance?

Investigative reporter for the Washington Examiner Joe Gabriel Simonson wrote last week that insurance company Cigna had rolled out a course on inclusive language for its employees.

According to Simonson, the course takes terms and phrases like “grandfathered”, “brown bag lunch” and “hip hip hooray” and suggests alternatives that are more inclusive, i.e., less offensive.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.