Occupational Lore: Hooah


Fordham University/University of Southern California

Army ROTC, EMT, Social Worker

Military Social Work



21 April 2011

Folk speech/occupational folklore

“Hooah” (pronounced Who-uh)

As explained by HS:

“Hooah. Well that’s hard to explain…it sorta a word and sorta a sound. Only Soldiers use it, and it means a lot of things. It can mean “yes” or just to pump somebody up. I can’t recall the first time I heard it, all the cadets around mean were using it so often. I think the first time I heard it was before I joined ROTC when I was working with combat veterans at a VA back East. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s just an Army thing. By saying it your not only saying the word, your saying that your part of the Army, and that you follow a code of an organization bigger than yourself. I don’t really know where it originated, I think it was a war cry that we took from the British or something back in the day”

As a cadet of three years, I have had ample time to discuss with my peers the significance and origins of Hooah. Hooah is a short way to characterize the entirety of Army culture into one singular word. The origins of this example of occupational folk speech are largely unknown. In my time in ROTC, I have heard three prevailing myths concerning the origin of this word. The first was that it is a battle cry derived from “Huzzah,” a battle cry used by the British and then the newly independent American Soldiers following the Revolutionary War. The second origin myth is that it came from the Normandy beach landings during World War II. Supposedly, an Officer ordered a group of Soldiers to advance and take a gun position overlooking the beach. Not being in the same unit as the Officer, a Soldier turned and yelled, “Who. Us?” The Officer misunderstood the phrase and thought that it was some kind of motivating war cry and began using it in his unit. The third origin was that I was originally an acronym for the phrase “Heard. Understood. Acknowledged” (HUA). Over the years Soldiers changed the spelling to the phonetic form as it took on more complex meanings.

Beyond being a simple word, Hooah is a complex idea that has considerable meaning and importance in the Army beyond simply being a war cry. Hooah, in its simplest form, literally mean anything except “no.” It can be used to answer a question in the affirmative. Hooah is also affected by the tone and pronunciation of the word, making it mean different things. When spoken with hesitation it can be a one-word question. “Hooah?” When spoken in exasperation, similar to a sigh, it can show an uncertainty in an order or suggestion. “Hooah…” When broken down into two syllables and over emphasized, it can literally mean “whatever. I think what you just said is stupid.” “who-AH.” It can also be used as a replacement for the word “cool.” It is an linguistic identifier that the person who said it is somehow connected to the Army. The sheer variety of the ways that Hooah can be used is quite large, and its significance cuts across into the realm of ideas.

In other mediums, I have heard the word “Hooah” quite frequently. In the videogame Modern Warfare 2,  produced by Infinity Ward, the player plays a Ranger in a fictional invasion of the United States by Russia. During the game, the word “Hooah” is used frequently by the Army Soldiers, and exemplifies the many uses/meanings it can take.

Beyond just a word that can be used in conversations in a military setting, Hooah is also an attribute. Being Hooah, is a descriptive term synonymous with someone being hardcore or intense. Soldiers use it describe individuals or events that are considered “badass.” Saying someone is Hooah is similar to saying someone is very adept at being a Soldier. For example, if a Soldier can take apart a weapon and put it together while blindfolded, they could be described as Hooah. The hyperlink below shows a montage of clips from Soldiers being/doing Hooah things.