Stuart Scott's memoir, which he completed before dying last month at the age of 49, comes out next month. The Washington Post quotes a passage from the book, in which Scott dates the origins of "Boo-yah" to his high school days in North Carolina:
We'd hang out in the garage of one of Fred's neighbors, Gilbert Shelton, a kindly older black man. Mr. G. would spend the day making bamboo chairs there, and we'd sit around and soak up his wisdom. One day, Mr. G said, "Hey, fellas, did you hear that thunder last night?"
"Nah, Mr. G, I didn't hear anything," I said.
"You didn't hear it?" he said. "Goodness, it was loud. It was like: Boo-yah!" He yelled it so loud, it startled me as if it were real thunder.
Fred started laughing. "How'd that thunder go again, Mr. G?"
And another of our inside jokes was born. On the playground or in our streets, it came to represent a blast of energy. Someone laid somebody out in the secondary? Boo-yah! Someone went yard on the diamond? Boo-yah! Someone said something about your mama that totally shut you up? Boo-yah!
Years later, when the phrase caught on and became part of my national identity, I was as surprised as anyone else, because I was just talking the language of my youth.
It's an interesting story, because the geography and timing (East Coast, early '80s) complicates but doesn't necessarily contradict the researched etymology of "Boo-yah" published by Slate last month. There, we learn that the first recorded instances of the word occurred in newspapers and rap lyrics from Southern California in the late '80s, often to describe the sound of gunfire. Though it's probably impossible to tell whether it spread from east to west, or arose in both places independently, in both cases the usage was onomatopoeic.
But there you have it: an inside joke that's now an established bit of our collective lexicon, by way of the SportsCenter desk.