Hear ye this here: Hear! Hear!

The phrase hear! hear! originated as the imperative hear him! (hear him!) in the late seventeenth century, or possibly earlier. It became popular as a British parliamentary exclamation used to draw attention to something a speaker had just said. By the late eighteenth century an abridged version had developed: hear! or hear! hear! In its written form it is punctuated in various ways, e.g. hear, hear and hear hear!

Over time, the expression spread to other domains, such as meetings and local debates. These days it is often used online to signify agreement, in much the same way that “Seconded”, “What [x] said” and “+1” do. It can, however, be used to convey anything from enthusiastic approval to withering derision, depending on the tone and context of delivery. Deployed ironically, it would be similar to “Would you listen to that!” or “Get him/her!”, which in text form might require a sarcastic font to prevent literal interpretation.

Hear! Hear! is frequently written here! here! (or here, here!, etc.). In A Dictionary of True Etymologies, Adrian Room suggests that this may be as if to indicate “the person or place where there is approval (while also suggesting the almost synonymous ‘same here!’)”. Another factor in the confusion may be the historical predominance of the phrase as a spoken expression rather than a written one. If Google hits are any indication, the erroneous rendering now seems more popular, and may ultimately become the normal or even standard form, through contagion and imitation.

Turning in the other temporal direction, the same expression – more or less – appears in the Bible, albeit in the slightly different sense of “Listen” or “Hear me”:

Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Jo’ab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.

A hear, hear or hear-hear is the noun describing the act of saying “hear! hear!”, while to hear-hear is the verb. A person who says “hear, hear!” can be described as a hear-hearer. If you have difficulty remembering whether it’s hear, hear! or here, here!, it might help to recall the origin of the phrase.

13 Responses to Hear ye this here: Hear! Hear!

  1. So I imagine a person who, in sympathy, says “there, there” is a there-therer. Surrounded by hear-hearers and there-therers, prime ministers and emperors fall.

  2. Sean Jeating says:

    Hört, hört! – Hört! Hört!

  3. Claudia says:

    We have Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! It comes from the French ouïr, which means entendre. I know it’s still used in court of law in England and USA. In the French world, sometimes, we still use it for official announcements. Also with irony to laugh at someone who feels important: “Oyez! Oyez! Écoutons bien! Le sage a parlé.” Never saw it on a French blog. But my experience is limited.

  4. Stan says:

    pretty far west: I don’t see why not. It’s possible that yours is the first recorded instance of this usage! This governor was neither a prime minister nor an emperor, but he would undoubtedly have tremendous difficulties with hear-hearers and there-therers. A little less, perhaps, with now-nowers.

    Sean: Danke für die Übersetzung! Gibt es auf Deutsch etwas wirklich entsprechend?

    Claudia: Thank you. Oyez! is a fairly familiar borrowed word in English, but I didn’t know its origin. One source I read suggested that Hear, hear! derived from Hear him! and from Hear ye!, the latter being quite a close English equivalent of Oyez!. I think my first encounter with Hear ye! was a town crier’s shout in a fairy tale. It is now so anachronistic that it could only be used in a knowingly pompous or ironic way.

  5. How do you pronounce “hört, hört!”? Because I plan on using it…

  6. Sean Jeating says:

    Ja, Stan, es gibt diese Entsprechung tatsächlich. Man hört sie nicht oft, und wenn, meistens als ironisch gemeinten Ausruf oder spöttisches Gemurmel. Gleichwohl denke ich, es ist einigermaßen gebräuchlich.
    [Rough translation for native speakers: One would not hear it very often, and if mostly as an ironic exclamation or muttering; still I think it’s slightly common.]

    Hört, hört! You plan on using it, D.E.?

    Well, hurt, hurt, with a bit more emphasis on the u/ö comes pretty close.
    Also if you say heard like in “I heard Sean, but understood nothing”, and instead of a d speak a t like in the first given example (hurt, hurt).
    That should work/wörk.

  7. Stan says:

    Doubtful: There is an audio file of the base verb form hören on Wiktionary, so you can replace its -en with -t and take it from there. This page offers a male voice, and though it changes hört to hort, it accepts hören.

    The IPA pronunciation is /ˈhøːʀən/; some instructions on labial arrangement are here. Alternatively, listening to the Muppets’ Swedish chef is good homework for German umlauts, though Sean might disagree, in which case I will immediately defer to his native authority.

  8. Stan says:

    Sean: Ah! Thank you for the bilingual explanation and the phonetic instructions, which are much more straightforward than mine. Interesting that the same term was adopted in German – did it originate as a loan-word, do you know?

    I enjoyed reading your German and am becoming gradually more determined to improve both my German and my French, not to mention my Irish. (These processes will accelerate when I figure out how to double the length of the average day.)

  9. Sean Jeating says:

    Hm, Stan, I tried to check what was first – the “Hear, hear!” or the “Hört, hört!” -, but did not find any proper source.
    I shall keep the question in my mind, though, and at the next opportunity ask someone who ought to know better.
    Joking, of course. Read: […] might know better.

    As for learning Irish. Once, while talking with a bookseller in Dingle, I mentioned that years ago I had bought cassettes and a book, but …
    After I had finished, almost imperceptable he nodded, and without batting an eye said: “Well, yes, to learn Irish it needs some intelligence.”
    Still chuckling …
    Oíche mhaith agat!

  10. Claudia says:

    Stan – When you figure out how to double the length of the average day, please (I beg you) share it with your desperate Canadian friend. Not only the days seem to get shorter and shorter here but, one hour after I wake up in the morning,I feel it’s already the beginning of next year. Must be the climate…

  11. Personally I’ve always felt that “Hear here!” has a certain eggcornish logic … meaning “Listen to that which can be heard whilst standing in this vicinity“.

    Though the last time I actually thought about this was a fair few years ago.

  12. Stan says:

    Dragon: I sometimes come across this mixed usage, but I didn’t mention it in the post, so I’m glad you brought it up. I agree with your observation, and would add that Hear here works in a way that Here hear doesn’t quite.

    At the time of writing, the Eggcorn Database entry includes just the Here here version.

  13. […] vogue, was +1. It has several uses. The one I see most is as a shorthand exclamation equivalent to Hear, hear! or I agree (+100 for I strongly agree), but it’s used increasingly often as a noun and a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s