Hue and cry, or hullabaloo
In contemporary terms, hue and cry is more and more used figuratively in the sense of a public clamour, a protest or demand.
IN past columns about racial and religious epithets, Aboriginal as Australia's indigenous people are called should have been included. A perfectly innocent word stemming from ab origine (from the beginning), it relates to people or living things that have existed in a place or a country from the earliest times.
Perhaps the Australian Aborigines' crime was that they were dark-skinned, and lived in the land before Europeans arrived. Under the Raj, Europeans looking down their noses at Indians and calling them `natives' was much the same story.
Some time ago, a headline in an Indian newspaper caught my eye: "Why the hue and cry, asks Shahi Imam." The chief cleric of Delhi's Jama Masjid had apparently given his blessings to the UPA government's proposal to conduct a survey of Muslims in the Army.
Now broadly used to mean a noisy expression of public anger or disapproval, `hue and cry' in English law (by the statute of Winchester of 1285) originally provided `that anyone, either a constable or a private citizen, who witnessed a felony shall make hue and cry, and that the hue and cry must be kept up against the fleeing felon from town to town and from county to county, until the felon is apprehended and delivered to the sheriff.' All able bodied men, upon hearing the shouts, were obliged to assist in the pursuit of the criminal.
Obliged to assist
In other words, it amounted to something like a citizen's obligation to serve on a sheriff's posse and to assist a police officer in pursuing a suspected culprit. Moreover, it was provided that those who `failed to give pursuit on the hue and cry would become liable in case of any theft or robbery. Those who raised a hue and cry falsely were themselves guilty of a felony.'
Readers would agree that many an overweight citizen must have breathed with relief when the laws relating to hue and cry were repealed in Britain in 1827.
Although the phrase outgrew its strict legal meaning by the 1500s, it appeared thus in Shakespeare's work:
"Hue and cry, villain! go. Assist me, knight; I am undone. Fly, run, hue and cry..." (Act IV, Scene V. The Merry Wives of Windsor).
In Act II, Scene IV of King Henry the Fourth, the sheriff tells the prince "First, pardon me, my lord. A hue and cry Hath follow'd certain men unto this house."
In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens had Fagin reading a magazine called the Hue and Cry, which was a weekly Police Gazette detailing crimes and wanted people.
The root of the phrase is the Anglo-Norman French legal phrase hu e cri, from Old French huer, to shout + crier, to cry. It seems that hue could mean any cry, or even the sound of a horn or trumpet the phrase hu e cri had a Latin equivalent, hutesium et clamor, "with horn and with voice".
This etymological footnote is a quote: The Old French huer survived in Cornwall, England right down to the early 20th century. At that time an important part of local livelihoods in coastal communities came from the seasonal catch of fish called pilchards, which migrated past the coast in great shoals in early autumn. To be sure of not missing their arrival, fishermen posted lookouts on the cliffs. They were called huers, since they commonly alerted the waiting fishermen by shouting through speaking trumpets.
In contemporary terms, hue and cry is more and more used figuratively in the sense of a public clamour, a protest or demand. For example, "The reformers raised a hue and cry about political corruption." Another common usage is for a loud clamour or protest intended to incite others to action: "In the 1980s, there was a great hue and cry for educational reform."
Hue, for a degree of lightness, darkness, strength, etc. of a colour ("a golden hue") is from Old English `hiw'. As a literary word, it may mean a different type or group, opinion or belief ("political opinions of every hue").
Hullabaloo, a less formal word, also means hue and cry. I like its onomatopoeic, tongue-rolling sound that automatically brings to mind an image of confusion, commotion and hubbub. Some dictionaries say that it perhaps originated as a combination of `hello' with Scottish English `balloo,' a word used to make children keep quiet.
Such misplaced scholarship ignores an immediately obvious connection. Hulla (hulla-gulla) is an authentic Hindi-Urdu word, used frequently and widely all over North India for everything that `clamour' could mean, and then some.
Hullabaloo is an 18th century word, the time when East India Company sahibs were enriching English language with words borrowed from Indian languages. Hope someone at the OED reads this column.
And would it not have sounded a lot better if the newspaper headline had read: Why the hullabaloo, asks Shahi Imam?
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