What’s the Word #23 – Hootenanny

March 22, 2016 at 12:02 am | Posted in Today's Reasons To Celebrate | Leave a comment

The word for today is hootenanny. Most people from my generation know what a hootenanny is…or think that they do. Hootenanny is a noun meaning, “a social gathering or informal concert featuring folk music and singing.” It came into use in the 1940’s.
Prior to the 1940’s however, the word hootenanny had an altogether different meaning. In the 1920’s. it meant, “any unspecified or unspecifiable object; something one does not know the name of or does not wish to name; gadget, gizmo, thingamajig, doohickey.” 

The origin of the word hootenanny is unknown; potentially Scottish. Use is tied to the Appalachian culture in America. It is one of many fanciful coinages for something unspecified; probably related to hooter, ”anything trifling,” found in the mid-1800s, and to hewgag – “an indeterminate, unknown mythical creature,” similarly found; the syllable “hoo”, which is prominent in such coinages, probably represents the interrogative pronoun who; the folk-music sense is based on this, [in spite of a fanciful explanation by the singer Woody Guthrie, involving a loud singer called Hootin’ Annie]


  1. When a group of musicians entered the park, an impromptu hootenanny ensued.
  2. Ernie picked up a hootenanny from the shelf, examined it, then, with a puzzled look on his face, put it back.

Although not specifically defined above, I have also heard the word hootenanny used an adjective in the context of a disorganized event, as in, “The first Republican debate was a real hootenanny with the candidates shouting over each other in an effort to garner as much air-time for themselves as possible.”


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