The word cheer meant originally face, countenance, expression, and came through Old French into Middle English in the 13th century from Low Latin cara, head; this is generally referred to the Greek καρα;. Cara is used by the 6th-century poet Flavius Cresconius Corippus, Postquam venere verendam Caesilris ante caram (In Laud em Justini Minoris). Cheer was at first qualified with epithets, both of joy and gladness and of sorrow; compare She thanked Dyomede for ale ... his gode chere (Chaucer, Troylus) with If they sing ... tis with so dull a cheere (Shakespeare, Sonnets, xcvii.). An early transference in meaning was to hospitality or entertainment, and hence to food and drink, good cheer. The sense of a shout of encouragement or applause is a late use. Defoe (Captain Singleton) speaks of it as a sailor's word, and the meaning does not appear in Johnson.
Of the different words or rather sounds that are used in cheering, "hurrah", though now generally looked on as the typical British form of cheer, is found in various forms in German, Scandinavian, Russian (ura), French (houra). It is probably onomatopoeic in origin; some connect it with such words as hurry, whirl ; the meaning would then be haste, to encourage speed or onset in battle. The English hurrah was preceded by huzza, stated to be a sailors word, and generally connected with heeze, to hoist, probably being one of the cries that sailors use when hauling or hoisting. The German hoch, seen in full in Hoch lebe der Kaiser, &c., the French vive, Italian and Spanish viva, evviva, are cries rather of acclamation than encouragement. The Japanese shout banzai became familiar during the Russo-Japanese War. In reports of parliamentary and other debates the insertion of cheers at any point in a speech indicates that approval was shown. by members of the House by emphatic utterances of hear hear. Cheering may be tumultuous, or it may be conducted rhythmically by prearrangement, as in the case of the Hip-hip-hip by way of introduction to a simultaneous hurrah. The saying "hip hip hurrah" is believed to have roots going back to the crusaders, then meaning "The hedonists have lost Jerusalem, and we are going to heaven. The abbreviation HEP would then stand for Hierosolyma est perdita, "Jerusalem is lost" in Latin.
The oldest and simplest are those of the New England colleges. The original yells of Harvard and Yale are identical in form, being composed of rah (abbreviation of hurrah) nine times repeated, shouted in unison with the name of the university at the end. The Yale cheer is given faster than that of Harvard. Many institutions have several different yells, a favorite variation being the name of the college shouted nine times in a slow and prolonged manner. The best known of these variants is the Yale cheer, partly taken from The Frogs of Aristophanes, which runs thus:
Brekekekx, ko-hx, ko-x, Brekekekx, ko-hx, ko-x, O-p, O-p, parabalou, Yale, Yale, Yale, Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, Yale! Yale! Yale!
The first known cheer heard from the sidelines happened during a Princeton University football game in the Late 1880s:
Rah, rah, rah!
Tiger, tiger, tiger!
Siss, siss, siss!
Boom, boom, boom! Bah!
Ah! Princeton! Princeton! Princeton!"
This yell is Princeton's longest used and most distinctive cheer. It is called the "Locomotive" cheer because it sounds like a train engine that starts slowly then picks up speed. Princeton University also established the first pep club. All-male "yell leaders" supported the Princeton football team with cheers from the sidelines. (cited:: Valliant, Doris, pg 15)
followed by recognizing a recipient three times, with the recipient most often being the last two numbers in a class year, such as "oh-seven, oh-seven, oh-seven!" for the class of 2007.
The railroad cheer is like the foregoing, but begun very slowly and broadly, and gradually accelerated to the end, which is enunciated as fast as possible. Many cheers are formed like that of Toronto University:
Varsit~, varsit~, V-a-r-s-i-t-y (spelled) VARSIT-Y (spelled staccato) Vhr-si-t~, Rah, rah, rah!
Another variety of yell is illustrated by that of the School of Practical Science of Toronto University:
Who are we? Can't you guess? We are from the S.P.S.!
The cheer of the United States Naval Academy is an imitation of a nautical syren.
The Royal Military College of Canada cheer is:
Call: Gimme a beer! Response: Beer! Esses! Emma! T-D-V! Who can stop old RMC! Shrapnel, Cordite, NCT! R-M-C Hooah!
The Amherst cheer is:
Amherst! Amherst! Amherst! Rah! Rah! Amherst! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Amherst!
The Bryn Mawr cheer can only be started by seniors:
Anassa kata, kalo kale Ia ia ia Nike Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr!
(Queen, descend, I invoke you, fair one. Hail, hail, hail, victory.)
Besides the cheers of individual institutions there are some common to all, generally used to compliment some successful athlete or popular professor. One of the oldest examples of these personal cheers is:
Who was George Washington? First in war, First in peace, First in the hearts of his countrymen.
...followed by a stamping on the floor in the same rhythm.
College yells are used particularly at athletic contests. In any large college there are several leaders, chosen by the students, who stand in front and call for the different songs and cheers, directing with their arms in the fashion of an orchestral conductor. This cheering and singing form one of the distinctive features of inter-collegiate and scholastic athletic contests in America.
Organised chants in North American sports are rarer then in their European counterparts, but some teams have their special routines. Common chants include "Let's go -team name-, let's go clap-clap clap-clap-clap; or in case of a single syllable nickname, "Go - team name- Go". Chants of "Bull-Shit" and "Ass-Hole" can be heard in some arenas/stadiums after calls unfriendly to the home squad. If the home team is leading a heavily favored team, or has defeated that team, the home fans will often mock the favored team with repeated choruses of "O-ver-ra-ted! clap-clap clap-clap-clap."
Most teams have a scoring song played on the PA system, and some professional American football teams sing a fight song after scores. The use of fight songs after a score is universal in college football. Since scoring in basketball is more frequent, and does not generally cause breaks in the game action, scoring songs are not employed in that sport. However, in college basketball, fight songs are universally played during prolonged breaks in game action (timeouts, halftime, and overtime breaks if any). Baseball fans traditionally sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the middle of the 7th inning. After 9/11, many professional teams chose to use "God Bless America" during that break, either supplementing or replacing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
In High School Basketball games, if the score was a blow-out and approaching the end of regulation, fans of the winning team would chant "This Game's Over" or "This One's Over." If the losing team makes a play, and that teams fans chant for that, fans of the winning team will start chanting "Scoreboard," indicating that even after the one play, the other team is losing.
The Australian Rugby Union has made a concerted effort to promote the singing of Waltzing Matilda since 1999, frequently featuring singer John Williamson at home matches to lead the crowd. As singing is not a part of Australian sporting culture, this "tradition" may well fade without active support from administration.