Among the countless catchphrases the late Stuart Scott belted out on SportsCenter over the years (“as cool as the other side of the pillow” will always be my favorite), “boo-yah!” will always remain his most famous and memorable. Tim Meadows parodied Scott’s ESPN broadcasts on “Saturday Night Live” in 1999, and after Scott’s passing last month, Dick Vitale honored him with multiple “boo-yahs” after a big win by Scott’s beloved University of North Carolina Tar Heels
Writing in Slate last month, Ben Zimmer explored the origins of “boo-yah,” linking it to the West Coast rap scene in the late 1980s and early 90s, where it was slang for gunfire — until Scott would forever link it to sports. In a memoir he completed shortly before passing away in January, Scott explains how he and his best friend Fred came upon the term during their high school days in North Carolina:
We’d hang out in the garage of one of Fred’s neighbors, Gilbert Shelton, a kindly older black man. Mr. G. would spend the day making bamboo chairs there, and we’d sit around and soak up his wisdom. One day, Mr. G said, “Hey, fellas, did you hear that thunder last night?”
“Nah, Mr. G, I didn’t hear anything,” I said.
“You didn’t hear it?” he said. “Goodness, it was loud. It was like: Boo-yah!” He yelled it so loud, it startled me as if it were real thunder.
Fred started laughing. “How’d that thunder go again, Mr. G?”
And another of our inside jokes was born. On the playground or in our streets, it came to represent a blast of energy. Someone laid somebody out in the secondary? Boo-yah! Someone went yard on the diamond? Boo-yah! Someone said something about your mama that totally shut you up? Boo-yah!
Years later, when the phrase caught on and became part of my national identity, I was as surprised as anyone else, because I was just talking the language of my youth.
Scott’s memoir of family, sports and cancer, “Every Day I Fight,” written with journalist Larry Platt, will be published by Blue Rider Press in early March. Look for a full review in this space in the coming weeks.
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