Origin of the Term "Hoo-ah" in the U.S. Military

This Coined Word Has an Interesting History

Officers and Cadets
•••

 Getty Images

"Hooah!" It is uttered at Army award ceremonies, bellowed from formations, and repeated before, during, and after training missions. You can hear it shouted by Air Force Security Forces, Pararescue, and Combat Controllers. The word HOO-YAH is thundered out by Navy SEALs, Navy Divers, and Navy EOD, and by United States Marines who pronounce their motivational cheer as "OohRah!" All are said to be slightly different versions of each other.

So, where do the terms originate? The simple answer is that nobody knows, although there are dozens of theories. In fact, nobody can even agree on the correct spelling of these widely used military "words."

No matter how one might spell the word, it's an expression of high morale, strength, and confidence. And theories abound regarding its true origin.

Seminole Chief

One theory is that the word originated with the Second Dragoons in Florida as "hough" in 1841. In an attempt to end the war with the Seminoles, a meeting was arranged with the Indian Chief Coacoochee. After the meeting, there was a banquet.

Garrison officers made a variety of toasts, including "Here's to luck" and "The old grudge" before drinking. Coacoochee asked Gopher John, an interpreter, the meaning of the officers' toasts. Gopher John responded, "It means, How d'ye do.'"

The chief then lifted his cup above his head and exclaimed in a deep, guttural voice, "Hough."

Vietnam War

Another theory is that during the Vietnam War many American soldiers used Vietnamese and Vietnamese-French expressions interchangeably with English.

One widely used term was the Vietnamese word for "yes," which is pronounced "u-ah." When assigned a task or asked a question, soldiers would often answer with "u-ah." This term, used for many years after the war by many soldiers, is easily changed to "hooah."

Omaha Beach

On D-Day, 1944, on Omaha Beach, near the sea cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc, General Cota, the 29th Division assistant division commander, jogged down the beach toward a group of Rangers from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and asked, "Where's your commanding officer?" They pointed him out and said, "Down there, sir."

General Cota reportedly followed their direction and, on his way down the beach, said, "Lead the way, Rangers!"

The Rangers from 2nd Battalion reportedly said, "WHO, US?" General Cota thought he heard them say "HOOAH!" He was so impressed with their cool and calm demeanor, not to mention their cool term, hooah, he decided to make it a household word.

Marines and OohRah

Nobody knows why the United States Marines pronounce the word, "OohRah!" When and where did it start? Is it related to similar cries now in use by other military services?

A couple of the more popular theories:

  • "OohRah" comes from either (take your pick) a Turkish or a Russian battle cry, and was somehow adopted by U.S. Marines.
  • Many lean in the direction that it may have originated with the 1957 film "The DI," starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Jim Moore. In that movie he commands his recruit platoon, "Let me hear you ROAR, tigers!"

Heard Understood and Acknowledged

Some say the term "HOOAH" is another way of spelling H.U.A.—which is an acronym for Heard, Understood, and Acknowledged. But the term can definitely be traced back to the Revolutionary War and into the Civil War. Different variations likely occurred with dialects of the military units from different regions of the South and North as well as from foreign advisers during the years prior to the Revolutionary War.