Cheers

Cheers became a part of the Princeton student's way of life sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s. The first cheer, ``Hooray, hooray, hooray! Tiger siss-boom-ah, Princeton!'' was adapted from the ``skyrocket'' cheer of the Seventh Regiment of New York City. Princetonians of the early 1860s remembered fifty years later hearing the Seventh Regiment give this cheer from their railroad coaches at the Princeton depot on their way to Washington, a few days after the outbreak of the Civil War. But a member of the Class of 1860 was pretty sure that he had heard a classmate give the rocket cheer in Professor Schenck's chemistry class in the spring of their senior year. The ``tiger'' (the word itself or a roar) was a common element in early cheers, generally. Its use in the rocket cheer did not refer to the Princeton mascot; he came later (see Tiger).

The Princeton skyrocket cheer was quoted by Rudyard Kipling in his story A Matter of Fact (1892): An English newspaperman, encouraging his reluctant American colleague, a Princeton graduate, to cable a fantastic story about a sea serpent to the New York World, ends his exhortation with the words ``Sizz! Boom-ah!''

Sometime in the 1890s, the skyrocket cheer developed into the ``locomotive,'' Princeton's longest-used and most distinctive cheer, which starts slowly and picks up increasing speed, suggesting the sound of a locomotive:

``'Ray 'ray 'ray
Tiger, tiger, tiger
Sis, sis, sis,
Boom, boom, boom, ah!
Princeton! Princeton! Princeton!''

In another cheer, used in the first half of the century, first Nassau and then Tiger were spelled out three times, followed by ``fight, team, fight.'' Still another, the ``short'' cheer, was used principally to honor individuals: ``R-r-r-ay, Lourie.''

Cheering played a more important part in football games in earlier years. With no band, time-outs were filled with locomotives and Nassau cheers, and with no public address system, the infrequent withdrawal of a player was greeted with a short cheer in his honor. And, as a Philadelphia Press reporter brought out in his account of Yale's 29 to 5 victory over Princeton in 1900, the cheering did not end with the game. When the Yale adherents danced about on the field to celebrate their victory, he reported, the Princeton stands responded with ``the steady, deep pulsation of the locomotive.'' Even after everyone else had left the field and darkness was closing in, ``still in obedience to the cry of a white-hatted figure up on the fence, a knot of Princetonians cheered -- cheered the team, cheered the scrub, cheered the team man by man, cheered Princeton, and last of all . . . sang in husky voices each verse of Old Nassau.''

In recent years cheering has been less ritualistic, more responsive to the immediate situation, with rhythmic chants such as ``go-Tiger-go,'' ``take that ball away, heh, heh, take that ball away,'' and the one-word call first used for basketball, later applied also to football: ``DE-fence,'' repeated time and again.

While cheering has become less important, the activities of the cheerleaders have become more spectacular, with tumbling on the sidelines, and push-ups under the goal posts to recount the points after each Princeton score. Cheerleaders were once chosen for their prominence on campus (sometimes as captains or managers in other sports); more recently they have been selected because of their special talents for the acrobatics of cheerleading.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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