Swinesong


woopigsooieNote: This article originally ran in the September 2013 issue of
Arkansas Life magazine.  It has nothing to do with fishing.

“WOOOOOOO. Pig. Sooie.
Wooooooo! Pig! Sooie!
Woooooo! Pig! Sooie! 
Razorbacks!”

It is arguably collegiate sport’s most famous cheer. Some say it is the most ridiculous. And yet the Hog Call, as it is affectionately known, is indelibly associated with Arkansas and Arkansans. “Friends of Bill” led puzzled New Hampshire voters in the cheer in 1992, when native son Bill Clinton made his mad dash for the presidency. It has become de riguer for a new head coaching hire to engage in leading the cheer at his or her (and so far it has always been his) introductory press conference. Arkansans have learned to gauge the enthusiasm—if not the quality—of a new head coach by his ability to get through the cheer without blushing. Houston Nutt: delivered with panache, like a man psyching himself up in the mirror on his way to sell some cars. Dana Altman: visibly disconcerted, gone in 60 seconds. Bobby Petrino: unabashed, the I’ll-do-whatever-it-takes gleam in his eye apparent to any who knew him. Bret Bielema: salivating and confident. As a barometer, the cheer is strangely prescient. But as a cheer, it is—and this must be admitted—somewhat ridiculous.

The Hog Call could have originated no earlier than 1909, for that is the year in which coach Hugo Bezdek, reportedly engaging in a bit of chest-thumping after a resounding victory, gushed that his team had played “like a bunch of wild razorback hogs.” The next year, the name was made permanent. Records on the actual start date of the Hog Call are nonexistent, but living memory agrees it was some time in the 1920s, and it started in the student section. It was, reportedly, an active call to the trough at the time, used by real hog farmers throughout the state.

But where did said call come from? “Wooo” appears to be little more than a throat-clearing precursor. “Pig” is obvious. But “Sooie.” Sooie, now, is the centerpiece, the capstone. It is the word that really makes you blush.

And yet, it may be the most dignified of all. Please direct your attention to the pig, that humble animal, Sus scrofa domesticus—the domesticated wild boar. Cross-breeds between escaped Russian boar (Sus scrofa, introduced for hunting) and domestic swine gave rise to the first razorback: a feral hog, well known to planters for its propensity to tear up fields. And it is here that we have our answer, for both the wild and the domestic hog are members of the family Suidae. That’s right: In the Linnaean naming system—the Latin naming system—the hog is a “suid.” Woo. Pig. Suid. Here, piggy, piggy.

Is the coincidence iron-clad? No. But the odds are good—educated farming was quite the passion of the 19th century—that our “call to the trough,” reportedly in use by actual Arkansas farmers in the 1920s, was in fact doggerel Latin. Barring that, it may have been a reflection of something even older. According to Dr. David Frederick, classics professor and Director of Humanities at the University of Arkansas, “suis is the genitive form of the Latin word for pig. However, the stem ‘su-’ is also widely distributed in other Indo-European languages to mean ‘pig.’ Thus ‘sooie’ may be more likely to come from older English or Germanic word roots for pig.” Either way, it is clearly more than sheer nonsense.

Latin, Anglo-Saxon or even proto-Indo-European: Regardless of its true origins, our most embarrassing of cheers may indeed be evidence of our state’s learned past.

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