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”).