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The Great American History of ‘Booyah!’

A thorough timeline of the English language’s funnest exclamation — quite literally from soup to nuts

Before we get into this, I want to break it to you that there’s no such place as Fort Booyah. It comes up in Google and in searches through old British newspapers, but trust me, there is no such fort. I was researching the history of the word “booyah” when I first stumbled upon a reference to the “Fort of Booyah,” and I naturally then spent an embarrassing amount of time and effort looking into this supposed citadel before discovering it was nothing more than a flaw in the character-recognition software — reading an “R” as a “B.” Indeed, the Fort of Rooyah was a real fort, which played a part in “The Great Mutiny” in Britain in 1857. 

As for booyah itself, the earliest appearances of the word began about 20 years after the great mutiny, and they come from right here in the good ’ol U.S. of A. In the August 25, 1877, edition of the Junction City Weekly Union from Junction City, Kansas, there is the following: “‘Boo-Yah’ is a very popular soup among the boys [of] Humboldt creek.” Another reference to the soup occurs in 1881 in the same paper. Despite these mentions in the Junction City Weekly Union, Junction City isn’t the home of booyah soup — that distinction belongs to the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, some 11 hours away from Humboldt Creek and the booyah-eating boys who reside there. 

The following description of booyah is from the cookbook Cook’s Country Eats Local, a 2015 collection of regional recipes from across America:

“Booyah just may be the richest, heartiest chicken and beef soup you’ve never heard of — unless you happen to be from Green Bay, Wisconsin, that is. Little known even in the rest of the state, booyah is both a soup and an event in Green Bay, made in huge batches in outdoor kettles for fairs, fundraisers and family gatherings.”

How booyah was born is a matter of some debate for the people of Green Bay, as the Green Bay Press Gazette explored in 2015. One Green Bay native claimed that her great-grandfather invented the dish back in 1893 when he was just 12 years old, in an effort to replicate a dish from his mother’s home country of Belgium. Another man, who was 96 years old, claimed his dad gave booyah its distinctive name back in 1906, as an attempt to spell the French word “bouillon,” which is a kind of broth.

So how do those stories jive with the earlier entries from Junction City? Well, they don’t, and it’s possible that those stories are wrong and/or the product of mere family legends. Or, they may both be true, as the Green Bay Press Gazette went on to explain that booyah might be just one of several mistranslations, as the soup dishes “booya, boulli and boojah” also originated from “bouillon.” Given that, the Junction City chicken soup may be another, entirely unrelated mistranslation. For our purposes, it seems “booya” came after “booyah” and is also a kind of soup, though not confined to only Green Bay. Either way, both versions of the word would come to mean a party or cookoff involving booyah — as in, “We’re throwin’ a big booyah!” — which probably originated just because booyah is a fun word to say.

While “booyah” still hasn’t really left Green Bay and “booya” is only slightly less regionalized, in the late 1980s the word took on a totally different meaning. As the June 11, 1988, edition of San Pedro, California’s News-Pilot explains, “booyah” was a word that meant “to shoot somebody. Supposed to approximate the sound of a shotgun.” So for the first 100 years of its existence, booyah was a kind of soup, and then, in the 1980s, it suddenly became street lingo. Whether or not these two are related in some way is impossible to discern, but I like to think it’s conceivable that some chicken-soup-loving kid from Green Bay could have moved to California and turned to a life of crime, but upon feeling homesick, decided to incorporate his favorite home dish to his new life at the school of hard knocks (it could happen).

Once booyah became street talk, it was only a short jump from there to the mainstream. In 1988, the hip-hop group Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. was created in Carson, California. Again, the Wikipedia entry states, “‘Boo-Yaa’ in their name signifies the sound of a shotgun being discharged, while the ‘T.R.I.B.E.’ stands for ‘Too Rough International Boo-Yaa Empire.’”

While the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. was well known on the L.A. hip-hop scene, someone else would bring “booyah!” to the mainstream: ESPN legend Stuart Scott. Born in Chicago in 1965 and raised in North Carolina, Scott would graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1987 and go on to be a sportscaster in several local markets, before joining ESPN in 1993. Hired to appeal to a younger audience, Scott quickly helped to bring a new voice and perspective to the Worldwide Leader.

As the New York Times wrote upon Scott’s death in 2015, “[Scott] was known for infusing his reports with a blend of pop-culture references, slang and exuberant phrases that made him something of a pop-culture figure in his own right.” Scott’s most popular catchphrase was undoubtedly “booyah!” and he’s widely credited with popularizing the word.

Once Scott made it his catchphrase on ESPN, there was no stopping booyah from becoming mainstream, with the likes of Channing Tatum, Charlie Day, David Duchovny and countless others spouting it off in what has now become a limitless library of GIFs

The most notorious booyah though — outside of any made by Scott — was a porn clip from the early 2000s starring porn stars Tony Eveready and Alicia AngelAs the Adult Film Database said of Eveready upon his 2007 arrest for weapons possession, “[Eveready] became a cultural icon for his famous BlackonBlondes Internet performance with Alicia Angel. Eveready singularly double-penetrated her by simultaneously inserting his penis into her vagina and his testicles into her anus in a piledriver position. When he pulled out both his penis and balls, each made a distinct popping sound as he exclaimed, ‘Booyah! Mmmmnnnh!’” 

The clip became so popular that “booyah” has now become the name for that particular sex act. For a time, the clip would even be the subject of a Rickroll-type online prank, with people sending the clip to each other unexpectedly, or simply playing the audio — which was SFW unless you knew — very loudly in an inappropriate setting. “I remember this being a thing with me and my officemates around 2005,” says a colleague who remembers the prank fondly. “It’d be totally silent, and suddenly you’d hear a ‘pop’ and then a ‘booyah!’ from a few desks over.”

From chicken soup in Green Bay to gunshots in L.A., then from the airwaves of ESPN to the popping sound of testicles leaving someone’s anus, “booyah” has proven itself to be about as versatile as a word can be, most likely due to the fact that it’s just a fun word to say. The only thing it definitely isn’t is a Fort located somewhere in England — and if such a fort ever did come to exist, I shudder to think what might go on in there.