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Hooters are like an owl's eyes

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

We now know that when Doug Sweet, Lifestyles editor of the Montreal Gazette, referred to this e-book as "a hoot," he was paying us a compliment... and that Hooters are so named because they resemble the large round eyes of an owl.

Several readers have kindly informed us of the American meaning of those words, which, as we mentioned last month, had puzzled us.

From Loren Myer, Frankfort, Indiana, US:

I'm a 58 year old American. My dad was in the US Air Force, and we were stationed in England twice while I was a schoolboy. We were in Suffolk in 1952-55 and in Essex (Finchingfield) in 1959-62. I will be forever grateful that my parents took advantage of these unique opportunities. We never lived on the American bases. We always lived in the local communities, and they sent my sister, brothers, and me to the local English schools. I'm a former English teacher with an intense interest in language. I first encountered your web site a few years ago by way of the "A Word a Day" newsletter.

I read with interest your recent article, "Hoot? Hooter? I don't give two hoots!" Although you did your research, you still didn't come up with the meaning of "hoot" as Doug Sweet intended it. I would have assumed that this use of "hoot" was distinctly American, but since it was used by a Canadian editor, I'll have to assume that it's North American.

When we describe something as a "hoot," we mean that it is not in any way academic, sophisticated, or high-brow. We mean that it is a great deal of fun in a "salt-of-the-earth" sort of way or that it is hilarious in a side-splitting sort of way. It would indicate something that will make one "hoot with glee" -- although this might be a bit too much hyperbole. Believe me, Doug Sweet intended it as a compliment. A typical exchange might go something like this:

"Did you see that Dame Edna special on TV?"
"No. When was it on?"
"Wednesday night. I laughed so hard. Oh, you should have seen her. She's such a hoot!"

In your research, you also came across "hooters." Here in America, the "breasts" meaning probably came first. It has always been my understanding that breasts were called "hooters" because a well-endowed female chest with large dark rings around the nipples bears some resemblance to the face of an owl with large, staring eyes. I can remember hearing and using the word "hooters" to refer to female breasts as far back as the late 60's or early 70's. (I also remember from my childhood in England that "hooter" referred to the nose)

In line with this, the franchised, beer-swilling and sports-bar chain calls itself "Hooters" and employs waitresses who aren't shy about their noticeably well-endowed upper assets. It is my firm belief that the corporation calls these bars "Hooters" because there would be a prudish outcry if they called the bars "Tits." You can see the owl connection in the company logo on their web site.

I've never been in a Hooters restaurant, but they are well known to most people here. I have no moral objection to them myself, but hanging out in bars just isn't anything I'm interested in. Some people consider them scandalous. I have heard of (and I know of two) cases of wives who will not allow their husbands to go to Hooters.

No matter what the company's spin on the name "Hooters" is, I'm certain that the colloquial connection between the female breasts and the word "hooters" preceded the founding of the company by several years -- though I have no real proof. My view is that the company called itself "Hooters" precisely because of female breasts.

I thought I'd also comment on your comment, just in case you truly didn't understand the wording in the title of Doug Sweet's article. His title was, "you can't make this stuff up." And your comment was "did he mean stuff-up?" Another way of wording his title would be "you can't make these things up." But you probably already knew that.

I hope you can keep up the wonderful work for many years to come.

From Elizabeth Riehm, Victoria, BC, Canada:

You probably know that "I don't give a hoot" is derogatory, something like" I don't give a damn." We also say something is a "hoot", meaning it is very funny or unusual. You could also say, " Isn't that a scream !" and that would roughly mean the same thing.

The Montreal Gazette is interesting but it is not what one would call a "hoot'.

From Kim Sweeney, Hawaii, US:

Aloha Eric,

Long time subscriber here, always love to read your articles! Just wanted to let you know that what he meant.

Hoot is defined in the definitions:

hoot noun: 4. colloq. A hilarious person, event or thing.

Because you ARE and your site IS.

Hope you make it to Hawaii sometime. Let me know if you do. I will throw you a Bar-B-Que and it will be a hoot!

Story first posted December 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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