What's All This Brouhaha?

Can you tell me anything about the derivation of the word 'bruhaha'? I'm not sure this is the standard spelling, that is, if there is a standard spelling. [William Wimmer; Rick Peeples and Robert Fineberg asked related questions]
The usual spelling is 'brouhaha', meaning an overexcited and noisy response, a commotion, hubbub or uproar. It's a negative word for some unpleasant confusion; a more neutral alternative might be the equally odd-looking 'hubbub'. We know the word came from the French word spelled the same way; it's found in French from the sixteenth century on, but it only arrived in English at the end of the nineteenth century. It seems to have been used in French drama as a noise made by the devil, who cried 'brou, ha, ha!'.

Many etymologists will say that the word was just a noisy nonsense exclamation that imitated the thing it referred to. But there is a theory, put forward by Walther von Wartberg, that it actually comes from the Hebrew 'barukh habba', "welcome" - literally "blessed be the one who comes" - a phrase that appears several times in the Book of Psalms and which is used in Synagogue prayers and as a greeting at Jewish weddings and other public occasions. You might think that this is just another case of folk wisdom guessing on the basis of slight resemblance, but there is evidence to suggest it may be correct. There's a similar word in the Arezzo dialect of Italian, 'barruccaba', that is without doubt borrowed from the Hebrew, and phrases in several other languages suggest that other Hebrew expressions were similarly borrowed.

BROUHAHA John Peter Maher wrote to say that he has done some work on the origins of 'brou' in French (with which, as I said last week, 'brouhaha' is linked). He suggests a more likely origin than the Hebrew greeting I mentioned may be bull baiting and it may be linked to the Italian or Spanish 'bravo'. He points to the French 'rabrouer', to taunt, as a connected term.
The above information is from WORLD WIDE WORDS, Copyright 2000 Michael B Quinion.
Last updated May 18, 2000

Web page copyright 2000 Eric Smith


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