What a hoot!

This morning’s Mother Goose and Grimm turns on a simple, silly ambiguity, but then the story gets more complicated:


First pass: hooters (1) ‘creatures that hoot, i.e., owls’ (straightforward derivational morphology, but specialized semantically) vs. Hooters, the restaurant chain fixated on hooters (2) N. Amer. vulgar slang for ‘a woman’s breasts’ (NOAD2).

Then there’s another sense, on which a Bizarro cartoon (posted here as #3 on 5/2/14) turns: hooters (3) informal ‘noses, esp. big noses’ vs. Hooters.

And at least one other important sense: hooter (4) esp. Brit. ‘an automobile horn’ —  that is, a thing that hoots (more straightforward derivational morphology).

But what about senses (3) and (2)?

Second pass: the restaurants. From Wikipedia:

Hooters, Inc. is the trade name of two privately held American restaurant chains: Hooters of America, Incorporated, based in Atlanta, Georgia, and Hooters, Incorporated, based in Clearwater, Florida. The Hooters name is a double entendre referring to both its owl logo, a bird known for its “hooting” calls as well as an American slang term for human breasts originally coined by comedian Steve Martin on the hit comedy series Saturday Night Live.Hooters is a restaurant whose waiting staff are primarily attractive young women, usually referred to simply as “Hooter Girls”, whose revealing outfits and sex appeal are played up and are a primary component of the company’s image.

I’ll get back to Steve Martin soon.

Here are some Hooter(s) girls on the job:


The owl on these shirts is a new logo; it replaced the original l(and to my eye, more satisfactory) logo in 2013:


Background on Steve Martin, from Wikipedia:

Stephen Glenn “Steve” Martin (born August 14, 1945) is an American comedian, actor, musician, writer, producer, and singer.

Martin came to public notice as a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and later became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. In the 1970s, Martin performed his offbeat, absurdist comedy routines before packed houses on national tours. Since the 1980s, having branched away from stand-up comedy, Martin has become a successful actor, as well as an author, playwright, pianist and banjo player,

… Martin appeared on 27 Saturday Night Live shows and he guest-hosted 15 times, … On the show, Martin popularized the air quotes gesture, which uses four fingers to make double quote marks in the air.

… On his comedy albums, Martin’s stand-up is self-referential and sometimes self-mocking. It mixes philosophical riffs with sudden spurts of “happy feet”, banjo playing with balloon depictions of concepts like venereal disease, and the controversial kitten juggling (he is a master juggler). His style is off-kilter and ironic, and sometimes pokes fun at stand-up comedy traditions

Now the hooters story, from the askmen site:

On May 17, 1980, three years before Hooters opened its doors, Steve Martin hosted Saturday Night Live and in his monologue he unknowingly provided the future restaurant with its name, saying, “I believe it’s derogatory to refer to a woman’s breasts as ‘boobs,’ ‘jugs,’ ‘winnebagos’ or ‘golden bozos’ — you should only refer to them as ‘hooters.’”

Martin’s next line was, “And I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal — high enough so you can look up her dress,” possibly providing the founders with the motivation needed to launch a restaurant in such a competitive industry.

Martin’s monologue is consistent with this sense of hooters being already current, so that Martin was recommending one variant rather than inventing one. However, Green’s Dictionary of Slang has its first mammary citation only in 1979 (in Geoffrey Wolff’s excellent memoir The Duke of Deception), so that if Martin didn’t actually invent the usage, he was certainly the vector for its spread.

But what would be the motivation for its invention? Well, noses are not only phallic symbols, but big ones are also mammary symbols, and that would get us from noses to breasts by a metaphorical transfer..

Working our way back, hooter ‘nose’ could conceivably be a specialization of hooter ‘thing that hoots’ (as in snorting or blowing one’s nose), but Green’s takes it to be metaphorical, “from its supposed resemblance to an old-fashioned automobile hooter” [i.e. horn] (with a first cite in 1959),

So it all starts with things or creatures that hoot and works its way out from there.

Oh yes, to be a hoot (said of a person, thing, or situation) ‘to be amusing or entertaining’ pretty clearly comes from hooting in pleasure or entertainment at some source.

3 Responses to “What a hoot!”

  1. Grant Barrett Says:

    FWIW, the Historical Dictionary of American Slang has an earlier citation: 1975 K. Hall _Sisters_ (film): Did you see the hooters on this babe?

  2. Hugo Says:

    “Hooter” was also used in Saturday Night Live before Steve Martin’s May 1980:

    Air Date: November 17th, 1979

    79e: Bea Arthur / The Roches

    First He Cries

    Written by: Al Franken & Tom Davis

    Dr. Jensen…..Bea Arthur
    Irene…..Gilda Radner
    Larry…..Bill Murray
    Grace…..Jane Curtin
    Son…..Jim Downey
    Ted…..Harry Shearer
    Friend…..Garrett Morris
    Bambi…..Laraine Newman

    [ SUPER: “Funds for “FIRST HE CRIES” were provided by grants from the following corporations:

    The Playboy Foundation

    Russ Meyer Pictures

    ABC Television

    The Jane Russell Institute for Full-Figured Women

    Lily Cups Company

    America Hooter Society” ]


  3. Hugo Says:

    I found a 1966 double entendre for “hooter” in the 1966 British comedy “Carry On Screaming!”

    01:12:28 – I hope there’s nobody looking. – Stop messing about.

    01:12:31 [Horn]

    01:12:32 Right on the hooter.


    You can see a clip here, at around 1h18m30s:


    There’s also a 1978 play by Ted Tally called “Hooters”, and Chevy Chase uses it in a July 1978 Redbook interview with Richard Thomas and Beau Bridges in Henry Winkler’s house:


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