Cheer Like an Egyptian
This post was shared with my Patrons, but it’s too good a story to keep for a chosen few. Also, this is the genre of anachronism thing that my friend Claire loves to hate, and I hope she passes hereabouts and enjoys the disaster.
Fact is, a friend forwarded me, three days ago, the preview of a book – I will not mention the author nor the title. The reason the pages were forwarded is simple, and three-fold:
. It’s a story set in Egypt, and therefore intersects my interests
. It’s a good example of bad worldbuilding (and I am currently teaching a course on the subject, so I need show-and-tell material)
. “See, you fool? You spend too much time doing research…”
Well, I do not.
I love doing research, and if it does not make my writing better, at least it helps with my Impostor’s Syndrome.
Anyway, the extract is rather amusing, sort of like putting a rabid cat in a box and then sitting over it, and it will certainly make for a great handout for my course.
The names are at best wrong, at worst ridiculous, the action is wooden and stilted, and then the Egyptians shout
Now, the first thing that comes to my mind when I read Hooray is rugby, and instantly I get a flashback of the rugby game in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
But it’s really just a brief moment, because then it is Norman Spinrad’s The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde that settles in my memory, and that’s it1.
So, Egyptians shouting Hooray! or Hurrah! grates to my inner ear like an old gramophone record played by a rusty nail.
Am I wrong, or this is anachronistic as hell?
Wikipedia comes to the rescue…
The call was recorded in England in the beginning of the 19th century in connection with making a toast. Eighteenth century dictionaries list “Hip” as an attention-getting interjection, and in an example from 1790 it is repeated.”Hip-hip” was added as a preparatory call before making a toast or cheer in the early 19th century, probably after 1806. By 1813, it had reached its modern form, hip-hip-hurrah.
It has been suggested that the word “hip” stems from a medieval Latin acronym, “Hierosolyma Est Perdita”, meaning “Jerusalem is lost”, a term that gained notoriety in the German Hep hep riots of August to October 1819.
But that last bit is probably bogus.
Just like Bronze-age Egyptians shouting hurrah (hoorah, hooray, hurray etc.) is bogus.
Also, further research revealed to me the existence of Hooray’s British Gelato Kitchen, that despite the season moved me almost to tears, but that also adds an extra layer of ridiculous to those poor, poor cheering Egyptians.
Ice cream, anyone, boys?
And this is of course nitpicking – the merits and flaws of the novel are certainly others BUT when we deal with historical fiction we should refrain, I am convinced, from using 19th century British cheering calls in Bronze Age North Africa (just as we should avoid to send Jesuits to the First Crusade.)
Because it grates.
Because one out of ten readers… nay, say one out of five hundred readers will find it stupid, and wrong, and will make fun of the writer and his poor worldbuilding skills.
Which is unpleasant – especially for the writer.
But wait, maybe there is another origin for the Egyptian’s anachronistic cheer… maybe they are actually shouting
… that is a Marines Corps thing, and dates back to the Korean War. Or maybe earlier…
Soldiers tend to prefer “hooah.” Marines say there is a separate and distinct “ooh-rah.” Not only that, they claim theirs was first. While the Army can trace “hooah” back only to the Second Seminole War of 1835-42, Marines cite Revolutionary War battle cries and even Russian and Turkish precedents for “ooh-rah,” which holds tremendous meaning and significance for most leathernecks.
So no, Oorah! does no solve the problem, being very solidly post-Bronze-age.
And indeed, if we go and trace this strange call through history, we do land at the court of Genghis Khan, as apparently the first – and not just the last – hurrah was shouted by the Golden Horde indeed.
Game, set and match to Norman Spinrad.
But then, let’s appreciate the plight of the poor storyteller. If they can’t shout Hooray! in any of its forms, how could our happy Egyptians express their enthusiasm and joie de vivre for the readers to get it?
I haven’t the slightest. And I don’t feel like browsing the Gardiner grammar to look for a viable substitute, that would be in hieroglyphs anyway.
Like my brother (that took two university exams in Egyptology) usually tells me
You’re a f*cking writer, make something up!
Before he suggests I use Cri!, stealing it from Stargate SG1.