Three cheers and a tiger


Senior Member
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?
  • bibliolept

    Senior Member
    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."cheers+and+a+tiger"+origin&source=web&ots=4CGfYTGI6y&sig=8AD3JYDjxg1ePB4BzIx_DQw3rVw&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result

    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:
    THREE CHEERS AND A TIGER - when "Three cheers and a tiger" was called for, there is division as to what that represented. There is no apparent dispute that the first portion - the "Three cheers" - represented three "Hurrahs!". The "tiger" portion of that is argued as either a growl from the crowd, slowly rising in volume and pitch until it became a roar of approbation; while others contend that it the addition of the chant "Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!" at the end of the third "Hurrah!", the series of "Hi!"'s also rising in both volume and pitch.
    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:
    Three cheers and a tiger for the Flemington Neshanock HURRAH, HURRAH, HURRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English UK
    Here's the OED on the subject:
    8. U.S. slang. A shriek or howl (often the word ‘tiger’) terminating a prolonged and enthusiastic cheer; a prolongation, finishing touch, final burst.
    The first OED citation is from 1845.


    Senior Member
    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.


    Senior Member
    English English
    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:


    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.


    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)


    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."
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