Life & Other Drugs

An Etymological Study of “A Hoot and a Half”

October 12, 2017

“You’re a hoot and a half!” I exclaim after one of my peers delights me with a witticism or an amusing tale of woe.

“Come on y’all, let’s go to get soft pretzels. It’ll be a hoot and a half!” I say coercively, hyping up the prospect for fun and whimsical salty bread on any given Saturday night.

“Hey kid. Keep your head up. You are a hoot and a half,” I say to the mirror as I give myself a pep talk on a particularly lousy day (lmao rip midterms).

Tracking my own copious usage of this phrase, it brings a couple of things into question. What is a hoot and what happened to the other half?

To trace the lineage, we have to go to the authoritative source on all things etymological: englishforums.com. According to Clive’s comment on the question “What is a hoot and a half?” circa 2006:

More than a hoot. A very big hoot.

The folks on this forum seem to have come to the consensus that a hoot is simply a funny or amusing thing. But when did this consensus enter the public consciousness? When did hoots become synonymous with fun?

To be clear, I’m speaking with the expertise of someone who has no idea what they’re talking about: Hoot means something cool or entertaining because owls are the most affable of woodland creatures. They’re up all night and they’re always wanting in on the hot goss–“who? who?” But where does the half come in?

The half is simply a means of amplifying the hoot. The half is the vocal equivalent of emphasizing an iMessage. It underscores that the thing being hooted is indeed quite hooty.

Which leads me to a new line of questioning as I fall down this rabbit hole of linguistic sleuthing. Why are we, as Americans, settling for a hoot and a half when we could have two dang hoots?

Have I been underselling my friends, soft pretzels, and myself when I proclaim us hoots and halves? Should I be describing us more accurately, as two complete, rootin’ tootin’ hoots? Is Rootin’ Tootin’ Hoots the name of a Bluegrass band I didn’t know I needed to form until just now? Is Steve Martin willing to man the banjo as a part of of the Rootin’ Tootin’ Hoots?

I digress. The point is, you, the reader, are more than a hoot a half. You are a hoot and a whole, no fractions of awesomeness allowed. To quote our friend Clive, you are a very big hoot. You are as friendly as a majestic snowy barn owl and as festive as a northern pygmy.

To be this great should be illegal, or at the very least strongly discouraged. If everyone and everything I’ve ever referred to as a hoot and a half is in fact, two hoots, we may run out of hoots to give. But then again, hoots are as limitless and as bountiful as the sea.

Adjust your metrics for coolness accordingly, people. Two Fat Hoots is the new Hoot and a Half.

(Ie. “Hey Dana! I read your newest Rib post. It was Two Whole Hoots!”)

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