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shameless pleading






Just beat it.

Dear Word Detective: Growing up in Detroit, we of modest means drove clunkers, sometimes referred to as “ghetto cruisers.” I hear the younger generation call them “hoop-dee’s.” I’m guessing this came from the fact that the creme de la creme of ghetto cruisers was the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, which got shortened to Coupe de. Then the “C” sound was dropped to make “hoop-dee.” My niece and her friends were not impressed with my logic and now I’m referred to as Uncle B.S. Just how full of it am I? — Alan Smithee.

Gosharootie! Alan Smithee, the famous film director? I’ve seen all your movies! Well, most of some of them, anyway. In a few cases I had to leave when people started throwing things at the screen. But hold on a moment. According to Wikipedia, “Alan Smithee” is the standard pseudonym used by directors who wish, for whatever reason, to disown their films and not have their real names appear in the credits. That explains the projectiles. So I guess I should just assume that this is a real question and that you’re hiding from your niece. Plus maybe you’re famous, right?

It may be because I wasn’t allowed to cross the street alone until I was 17, but I had never heard of “hoop-dees” before I read your question. Fortunately, other people have, and the term is actually listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED spells the word “hooptie,” although it also recognizes “hooptie,” “hoopty,” “whooptie,” and “whoopty.” I’ll stick with “hooptie.” As for a definition, the OED explains “hooptie” as being “A car; specifically an old or dilapidated one,” and their earliest print citation for the term is from 1968, in a glossary of then-current slang, which would indicate that the term had been in use for at least a few years before then. So “hooptie” is essentially synonymous, according to the OED, with such other slang terms for aged and/or infirm automobiles as “beater,” “jalopy,” “crate” and “clunker.”

It seems, however, that “hooptie” may also be applied to a car which, while it may be past its prime, is still an object of devotion and pride. The OED’s assertion that “hooptie” first appeared as slang in the African-American community would fit with popularization of the term in a number of rap and hip-hop songs, most notably the 1990 “My Hooptie” by Sir Mix-a-Lot (“My hooptie rollin’, tailpipe draggin’ / Heat don’t work an’ my girl keeps naggin’ / Six-nine Buick, deuce keeps rollin’ / One hubcap ’cause three got stolen / Bumper shook loose, chrome keeps scrapin’ / Mis-matched tires, and my white walls flakin’ …).

The origin of the term “hooptie” is, unfortunately, considered a complete mystery. The Dictionary of Regional American English cites an apparent ancestor, “hoopy,” as being heard, especially in Texas, in the mid-1960s, but that doesn’t help much. Interestingly, several references I have come across suggest, as you did, a possible origin in the Cadillac Coupe De Ville, and the more I ponder that possibility the more sense it makes. A “hooptie” is clearly by nature a large American-made car (like the 1969 Buick in “My Hooptie”), most likely a status vehicle when new, and still retaining some of its original cachet. That certainly sounds like a Coupe de Ville to me, and the phonetic resemblance between “Coupe de” and “hooptie” is intriguing, to say the least. So while I certainly can’t swear your theory is correct, and we may never know the origin of “hooptie” for certain, your niece should chill until she has a better theory.

17 comments to Hooptie

  • Tom Drinane

    What about the expression “whoop-di-do!”, defined as “Exclam. An expression of joy, however is often used sarcastically. [Orig. U.S.]” at – the Dictionary of Slang?

  • Rosemarie

    Regarding the connection between “Coupe de” and “Hooptie”, I think it’s even more plausible than you do. “Coupe de Ville” is a French expression; and trying to pronounce “coupe de” with a fake French accent could easily produce “khhhooptie”; then slur into the more easily pronounced “hooptie.” Just my humble opinion!

  • Thomas Brown

    I’m with Tom Drinane. The hooptie is another kettle of fish. I’ve heard whoop-di-do shortened to “hoop-di”, uttered with eyes ablaze, fingers stretched on each side of the face, implying “hoity-toity” or in plain English, “big deal!”. I can see how this connotation could derive from “coupe de” as in “coupe de ville”.

  • nina M

    Here in Canada , I have heard the expression of an item being hooped. As in “that washing machine is hooped” meaning that there is no fixing it and it is not worth new parts. Any connection with a car ?

  • Rick

    I grew up in the 50s in Arkansas hearing my grandpa and other old timers who were around when the automobile was invented, use the term “hoopy” for a dilapidated car. I never heard the the term “hooptie” until the last few years, so it seems to me that “hooptie” is a resurrected variation of the original, “hoopy.” I am a purist. I think “hooptie” just sounds like a polluted attempt at remembering a word by someone who just didn’t know :)

  • Dan

    I, too, was raised in the deep south in the 1960s, and my canadian grandparents had OLD, rusted, “nail-starts-the-ignition” cars that they called “hoopie-wagons” and “hoopters”. Well predating the “Coupe-D” resurrection of the term. So I’m backing Nina and Rick’s versions of history.

  • vENGe

    Understand this.. All you need is a couple of parrots and you could say “dope”.. meaning cool, interesting..before you know it millions are repeating it.. as far as “whooptie” goes i coined it 20 years ago also “Bling” “junk in the trunk” “PRIVY” meaning “privledged”…also “Out of the blue” “bolt” “it is what is” “out and about” – was originally “out and all about… me” “vent” “thrown under the bus” “pick6″-(sports term) “cha ching” “puttin me on the spot”
    “light you up- lightin it up” “you fell off” “off the hook” i got many many more i coined email me at if you would like to know more about the story on some of these slang terms i have the world repeating :)

  • Andrew Hooper

    The credit goes to Andy Hooper , he would sit at Totem Lake Ford/Toyota in the Mid 1980s and buy the junkier cars off the lot, He did not have a dealers license at the time but the managers would sell it too him like any other car getting a “RED DOT” so when the owner called in to see how many cars were sold they could always count on Hooper buying a car a day… As the salesmen moved from dealer to dealer they would call him to come in and buy a “Hooper” special as the years went buy it was shortend to the term Hooptie…Theres alot more to this story.

  • Knotts

    merle haggard recorded Shade Tree Fix It Man in 1965. In it, he sings, “headed out west from Arkansas, my hoopie ran fine for a while”.
    That’s the first time I heard the term.

    • Jaxson

      Knotts is correct. 1965 , Merle Haggard did sing verse “my hoopie ran fine for while”. I’ve heard the term hoopie used in the Ozarks in the mid-60’s. I thought, at the time, it referred to the tattered jalopy’s that the poor folks drove. My dad (from Missouri Ozarks) used that ‘hoopie’ term when he referred to some old convertible or 1930’s wood frame car with a long-gone fabric top — the bows, or old hoops, were all that barely held the car roof together. Akin to rusty old barrel hoops that barely held a rain barrel together.

  • Robin G

    Fast forward to November 21, 2019 – a member of the House of Representatives, Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, used the term ‘hooptie’ in expressing concern about the 60 year old planes flying for the U.S. as part of the Open Skies program. Thank you Representative Cleaver and thanks to this website for this cool new addition to my vocabulary. I now know that in addition to calling my 2001 Saturn SL2 a jalopy, I can also call it a hooptie.

  • I grew up in Central Texas in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and we routinely used “hoopy” to refer to a worn-out jalopy.

  • Rip Van Winkle

    My grandmother told me they used the term Hoopie to describe an old car with barely enough parts to run and move. Totally worn out with no redeeming qualities. This was back in the 1920’s. Cadillac had no bearing on that word, and the people nowadays think it is from the 60’s; they are WRONG!

  • Bill Lavery

    I am transcribing an old letter from 1933 with a reference to an old car, calling it a “hoopie”.

  • Cuvtixo

    The last two references point to the 1930s and even the ’20s. But, perhaps we should consider even older origins, like nicknames for horse-drawn wagons, particularly during U.S.settlers moving west. I can imagine one such reference: wagon wheels that are better fit as barrel hoops. It’s stretching, I know; purely speculative. But I think there’s a good chance that there are obvious references to beat-up, worn out carriages or wagons or perhaps specifically the horses that pulled them. I live near one such famous route, and a lot of that history just isn’t in the history books

  • Joebud

    Asked this question to my black brother coworker a few decades ago. What’s a Hooptie? He told me it was car in such bad shape that still drove but if it died then Hooptie shit just leave it.

  • Ryan

    I always thought it came from the Hupp Motor Car Company and the Hupmobiles after they failed by 1940.

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