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