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shameless pleading

Boy Howdy

And, of course, Princess Summerfall Winterspring.

Dear Word Detective:  Where does the expression “Boy Howdy!” come from?  Any connection to Howdy Doody? — Carol.

Well, ultimately, yes, of course.  It’s pretty hard to think of a single aspect of modern life that isn’t connected to Howdy Doody in some way.  To those of you born after 1960, “Howdy Doody” may have been just a wildly popular 1950s kiddie TV show, but the rest of us know that time and space began with Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the Clown.  Someone should tell those physicists that they’re wasting their time searching for that Grand Unified Theory of Everything.  It’s Howdy Doody all the way down.

All kidding aside, “Howdy Doody” and “Boy Howdy” are, in fact, related.  The “Howdy” in “Boy Howdy” is the same word as in “Howdy Doody,” the name of the marionette that starred in the TV show.  “Howdy” is a short form of the phrase “How do you do?”, a social greeting that dates back to 16th century England.  The form “Howdy” took root in the Southern US in the 19th century and was carried West by veterans of the US Civil War.  “Howdy Doody” is simply another jocular form of “How do you do?”  Although “Howdy” as a greeting is usually associated with the West, it’s actually used all over the US today, and I often hear myself blurt “Howdy!” when I’m passed on the street by someone who has a stronger memory of me than I have of them.

“Boy howdy” is another Southernism, usually attributed to Texas and evidently popular in that state.  It’s a simple combination of the exclamation “Boy!” (indicating surprise) and our friend “Howdy,” together used to mean “Wow!” or to indicate strong agreement with a statement or question (“Was your mom mad at you?”  “Boy howdy!  I’m grounded for a month.”).  The phrase seems to have been popularized in the years after World War I, when returning soldiers who had heard it from Texans in the service brought it back to civilian life.  A related form, “boy hidy,” is a fairly weird but nonetheless popular variation.  Texas, land of mystery.

Speaking of exclamations, the interjection “boy!” (“Boy, that sauce is hot!”) is short for “Oh boy,” used to introduce and emphasize a statement since the early 20th century.  The original lexical function of the phrase was simply to catch the listener’s attention, equivalent to saying “Hey, mister…”, but today “boy” used this way signals that the speaker considers what follows to be important or surprising (“Boy, I never thought they’d actually fire me”).

20 comments to Boy Howdy

  • Jim Brown

    This term is used sarcastically in response to a slow thinker’s revelation of a pretty obvious fact: “Well, Boy Howdy!”

  • bob

    “Boy Howdy!” as a response reminds me of the phrase “And how!” I wonder if there is a connection there, that would have been an intermediate stage, such as “Did that hurt?” –> “Boy! And how did it!”

    And “Man!” has the same usage as “Boy!” to emphasize what follows. Never heard “Girl!” though.

  • Roswell

    My brain hurts, but I get it now…. Thank you:)

  • Dave

    This is definitely a Southernism. I’ve heard it used often by people from all over the Deep South — Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and those parts of North Florida that are still Southern. It is simiilar in some ways to “I heard that!” I would characterize it as a conversational intensifier, indicating emphatic agreement or underscoring a point. I’ve also heard a variant used in Southern rodeo circles: “Boy howdy and jam your hat on tight!” This phrase is used to indicate the anticipation of trouble or difficulty. Cowboy #1: “I heard Billy Bob spent the rent money on his entry fee — you think his wife’ll be mad?” #2: “Boy howdy and jam your hat on tight!” #1: “I heard that!”

  • Lynnie

    Have heard “Boy howdy!” shouted in southern churches as a synonym to “Amen!” (In churches with particularly rowdy “amen corners”.)

  • jude

    I’ve been in Texas since “79″ and have never heard anyone say “Boy Howdy”. The only person i ever remember hearing say it was John Mellencamp, and he is from my home state of Indiana….I don’t know why it struck me as funny he should use that term.

  • Mafonzie

    The 1st I read it was in Jayne Ann Krentz’s book All Night Long:’ Boy howdy, is that what u call it here in the mountains? ‘ great!

  • Erdaram

    The early settler “Cowboys” of Western Broward in South Florida i.e. 1920s-40s
    used Boy Howdy as we today might use
    the response “Been there, done that”.

  • EJ

    QVC host just said the MacBook pro he’s presenting is ‘Boy Howdy’ fast.
    Butters from South Park has also said it.

  • Jim

    And I thought I had invented this recently! Then I heard someone use it last night and found this page, nothing new under the sun.

  • Dawn

    Maybe the “boy” is related to “good ol’ boy”?

  • henry

    I seem to recall Colonel Blake using this
    expression on “MASH”.

  • Henley

    First time i heard it was on King of the Hill. Although the show is set in Texas, the character who uses it is Peggy Hill who is actually from Montana.

  • Irene

    The first time I ever heard “boy howdy,” it was used as a general exclamation of agreement. The person saying it was a woman in her late 90s who had been born in southern Iowa, but had lived in northeastern Wyoming most of her life.

  • Will Martin

    “Boy Howdy” was a favorite expression of Lee Majors in “The Big Valley”. He got it from James Dean in “Giant”. The End.

  • Sheriff Walt Longmire, Durant, WO, uses it routinely, indicating strong agreement

  • “Boy Howdy” is an expression that shows up regularly in the Wyoming-set mysteries by Craig Johnson, including his most recent novel, “Any Other Name” featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire. The Longmire character is the title of a TV series now starting its second season.

  • LYNN

    I have been listening to Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire Mystery Series -and the TV series by the same name, which takes place in Wyoming. Sheriff Walt Longmire uses this phase a lot and I was wondering where he picked it up from – At first I thought it was something he picked in Vietnam – Nice to know it is a good ole made in the USA phrase!

  • Jonathan b

    I’m from east texas and this term is used by most of the family except my generation (Im 29). My uncle uses it alot. I catch myself saying it sometimes but its kinda like saying groovy or gee golly; no one under 50 yo really thaught it was cool.

  • Thorny Black

    Boy Howdy is actually a Midwestern-Western term. It is not Southern, depending on your definition of Southern. Texas, to me, is West, mostly, except for the bits down around Louisiana. The only place I have I heard it used often is Kansas.

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