Three cheers and a tiger

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Dimcl, Nov 26, 2008.

  1. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Hello all. I've been reading a lot of naval history lately and am running across the phrase "Three cheers and a tiger" quite often. If the crew of a ship was giving their captain "three cheers", for example, they also gave him a "tiger" after the cheers. I get the sense that this is a phrase originating in BE.

    Having checked with Dr. Google, he tells me that it is a "noise/growl/screech" that is performed after the cheers. Can anyone elaborate on what this noise is and what the origin of the term is?
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Several sources I found mentioned the phrase in the context of the American Civil War. The Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities suggests that the phrase was born in 1822.

    Twain mentions variations of this phrase in Roughing It and in a separate retelling of the same Gold Rush times in Around the World (Letter No. 4). EDIT: That would date the story to the early to mid 1860s. This is confirmed by a December 1863 Twain article in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.

    From The Artilleryman's Glossary:
    Unfortunately, no sources are cited.

    The Flemington Neshanock Base Ball Club, which play baseball as it was played in the 19th century, includes this quote:
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2008
  3. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Here's the OED on the subject:
    The first OED citation is from 1845.
  4. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    One last find, dated to 1875:
  5. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Thanks much, Biblio and Loob, for giving me interesting sources that I'll follow-up on.

    The phrase is obviously quite old because it's used in a diary written by a seaman who served on a British ship during the naval battles of 1812 - 1814 between the U.S. and Canada. I've also found it referenced in a history of the ships (Canadian) plying the West Coast north to the Klondike Gold Rush. Of course, that was in the late 1800s, so it seems that it was already a firmly-entrenched phrase by then.

    Given the English/U.S. influences in Canada, it could have originated in either place but I somehow associate "tigers" with the "Empire" as opposed to the U.S.:) Thanks again.
  6. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This sceptic isle!
    Northwest Englandish
    I've never ever heard of this, Dimcl. (This may be an incredibly daft thing to say but) I always associate tigers with India, obviously ex-British Empire ~ I'm surprised the OED thinks it US slang:confused:
  7. Pozzo1 New Member

    English - United States
    The only place I've ever heard this expression is in the late-40s Bugs Bunny cartoon "A-Lad-In His Lamp," where it's proclaimed by the Jim Backus-voiced genie ("Three cheers and a tiger for me!"). Always wondered what that was supposed to mean.
  8. tones3d New Member

    English - Australia
    Until I read this in Mark Twain's "Roughing It", I thought it was Australian, as its usage persisted in my family until the mid 1990s, especially at birthday celebrations. Here's an example of how it works:
    Cheerleader: "Hip hip"
    Group: "Hooray"
    (reiterate twice)
    Group member other than original cheerleader: "Tiger!"
    Group: "Eeeeee" (high pitched, loud)
  9. Mw29 New Member

    Pennsylvania English United States
    Tying together with British controlled India, could this be 3 cheers and the tiger being a reference to getting back to the reality of the job at hand. Something like saying the celebration stopped when a tiger was spotted. First time I've seen this phrase is in a journal entry by Schuyler S. Strong, year 1838. He was a raftsman on the Susquehanna River in New York and Pennsylvania. "All unanimous vote of thanks was tendered him with three rousing cheers and a tiger."
  10. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    According to this page on Princeton University's Web site, a "tiger" (either the word itself or a roar) was a common element of Princeton cheers before 1860. It is unrelated to the Princeton mascot; the choice of a tiger for that purpose came around 1880.

    Princeton students could easily have gotten the idea from local raftsmen (see previous post) or any number of other sources.

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