Let’s take a step back from all the serious stuff going on at the United States Military Academy. This particular entry is nothing short of ridiculous, but I think it’s interesting, and certainly emphasizes the cultural importance of language, even at West Point.
Within the first dozen pages of Absolutely American, David Lipsky brings up “The Theory and Practice of Huah” (11). Huah? Right. In addition to basing everyday speech on acronyms, apparently the military has its own vocabulary. Lipsky writes “There’s a word you hear a lot at West Point: huah. […] Huah is an all-purpose word” (11). It seems that huah is something that you can say to anyone at any time. It can be attached to the end of a question signifying “right?”, it can be used as an adjective to describe someone who is ready for action, or it can be used as a response to most questions (“How are you doing today?” “HUAH!”). I guess that huah is the military’s version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” something to say when there’s nothing else to say.
I decided to bring up the idea of “huah” with my ever-patient acquaintances at West Point. I received an instant response when I uttered the word, but it was not quite the response I had anticipated. I was immediately told that I was spelling it wrong. Apparently the spelling has changed since the publishing of Absolutely American in 2003. Nowadays it seems that this magic word is spelled H-O-O-A-H. Once we moved away from the technicalities of the word, I asked the cadets what hooah meant. I received an absolutely brilliant response: “hooah is everything and anything, but ‘no’” (Anonymous). The cadets then went on to describe how hooah is the Army version of “good,” except if you’re good then you’re alright, but if you’re hooah then you’re motivated, physically and mentally prepared, and ready to perform. It seems that hooah carries more baggage than one would originally think.
Tying this word into the anthropological study of culture, I think that it serves to create identity. According to the dictionary, hooah/huah is not a word, yet it is quite obvious that at the United States Military Academy it is a word, and a very important one at that. Hooah/huah is a word that unites members of the Army because it is unique and motivationally encompassing. People outside of the Army do not associate with this word, because hooah/huah carries a tone of shared experiences that can only be found within West Point’s walls.
Anonymous, Telephone interview. 22 April 2008.
Lipsky, David. Absolutely American. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.