KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) —An East Tennessee Historical Society event is bringing attention to a peculiar word.
The East Tennessee Historical Society’s ‘History Hootenanny’ is taking place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 20. The name, however, has a more interesting background than its mild obscurity.
According to Dr. Warren Dockter, President and CEO of the East Tennessee Historical Society, a hootenanny, in the way that people in the southern United States typically use the word, refers to an informal gathering where folk music is played in a party like atmosphere.
The author who coined the term is even more interesting.
“That was coined in the 1950s and ’60s by none other than Woody Guthrie, which I think is really interesting.” Dockter said.
While Guthrie may be a lesser known name these days, some of his songs are still well known. Guthrie is known of hits such as “This Land is Your Land,” “Tear the Fascists Down,” and “The House of the Rising Sun.”
A few other definitions for the word ‘hootenanny’ are also known.
“An older meaning that goes back is an Appalachian colloquialism that’s used as a placeholder name to things that have been forgotten or are unknown” Dockter said. “For instance, it’s the equivalent of saying a do-hickey, or a thing-a-ma-jig, or a whatcha-ma-call-it, and it comes from the 1930s and it’s specific to Appalachia which I think is really remarkable.”
One last definition, and the oldest meaning of the word according to Dockter, has a similar meaning to what the word is associated with now.
“It is an American variation of a Scottish Gaelic word for a New Year’s celebration that comes from around about the 15th Century. Now that’s presently called a “Hogmanay” in Scotland, and they still use it to celebrate New Years.” Dockter said.
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Among these different definition,
“It’s very clear to see that hootenanny has kind of evolved the meaning of the word over the last 500 years. I think it’s really cool that it’s moved from the Scotch-Irish definition into an Appalachian definition, and then into a kind of folk music definition, so it really underscores all that we are trying to achieve here. I love the word hootenanny because it kind of showcases our history in a way.”