Hue and Cry

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The following comment set me wondering how widespread the misspelling of hue in the expression hue and cry has become:

Where’s the hew and cry [in the mainstream media] about the way women are treated?

A web search turned up a great many examples of “hew and cry,” but it’s not always easy to tell which are misspellings and which are intended to be humorous.

For example, the Seattle Times ran the headline, “Hew and Cry Put on Hold.” The story was about a protest against the the logging of Old-Growth stands.

Before 1979 and the separation of the Department of Education from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, many newspaper headlines used the expression “hew and cry” as a play on the acronym HEW.

Sometimes, however, the intended expression seems clear enough from the context. Here are some examples of hue being misspelled as hew in newspapers published in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Canada.

Amid Hew and Cry, British Buyout Firms Stay on Message
Remember the hew and cry about some ducks dying in a tailings pond?
Imagine the hew and cry if GeorgeBush were President
So where’s the hew and cry over the gross spending spree?
Hew and cry as South run riot

Modern speakers are more familiar with the hue that means “color” than with the hue that means a noise or an outcry, so it’s not surprising they might assume the hue in the expression would have a different spelling.

hue: noun. Outcry, shouting, clamor, especially that raised by a multitude in war or the chase.

Hue meaning “shout” came into English from French heu, which was more of an utterance like “huh” than a word. “Hue and cry” was the combined tumult of men shouting, dogs baying, and hunting horns sounding that accompanied the pursuit of a criminal. In time the expression became a legal term for such a pursuit commanded by the local constable. Men who refused to assist in “the hue and cry” were subject to legal penalties.

In modern use, “hue and cry” is used figuratively as a synonym for outcry. One “raises a hue and cry” against a perceived crime or injustice.

Hew, on the other hand, has to do with cutting and chopping.

hew: verb. to strike, or deal blows with a cutting weapon; to strike forcibly with a cutting tool.

Considering that “hue and cry” is in its ninth century of use, insisting on spelling it correctly may seem a bit picky. It’s amazing that modern speakers still have a use for it. Still, dictionaries do exist. It seems reasonable to expect people to learn to spell the words they use in publishing their thoughts.

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10 thoughts on “Hue and Cry”

  1. A nuther one for the “low and behold”, “tow the line”, “Penny Anny”, “it’s a doggie dog world” drawer. Again, the word “hue” (with this meaning) is rare, probably extinct today outside this phrase and the common law literal meaning re the pursuit of criminals you mention. In this case, the word “hew” isn’t very common, either, but is more familiar than hue, apparently. If the Hugh & Crye brand of men’s clothing becomes more well-known, it will probably take over from hew and cry, and the ball will be moved, but in the wrong direction.

  2. Correction:
    Don’t say “Considering that ‘hue and cry’ is in its ninth century of use, insisting on spelling it correctly may seem a bit picky,”
    but rather say:
    “Considering that ‘hue and cry’ is in its ninth century of use, insisting on spelling it correctly DOES NOT seem picky.”
    I have not heard this clothing trademark in use lately – FUBU – and maybe the company has gone out of business. That’s good riddance, because the people there did not understand that FUBU was soldier’s slang from World War II, and it meant “F***ed Up Beyond all Understanding.”
    Do parents want to say that about their own children?

    I was born years after World War II, but I have read a book on “soldier’s slang” from that period. Besides American G.I. slang, it described some of the slang of British, Commonwealth, German, and Russian soldiers.

    For example, to German soldiers, field kitchens from the troops were “Goulash Kannonen” = “goulash cannons”. They griped about their food just like all the other soldiers did.

  3. My sister often speaks of “the great human cry” soil expected to see this mentioned in the article. Perhaps she is unique in this regard?

  4. Heather,
    In writing for a general audience, I use acronym in its general sense. I think of an initialism as a type of acronym.

    Acronym: A word formed from the initial letters of other words or (occas.) from the initial parts of syllables taken from other words, the whole being pronounced as a single word (such as NATO, RADA). (OED)

  5. Some initialisms have been accepted into the language as common nouns. These include radar and sonar – decades ago – despite some people who still insist on capitalizing them. There is also the word “tokamak” in nuclear physics research, and that word comes from an acronym in the Russian language.

    Some other acronyms were composed in a rather odd way to make them into pronounceable words. Over 30 years ago, there was a satellite communication system that was made and launched for the U.S. Department of Defense. It was called DISCUS (pronounced “discus”, like in the field event). I don’t know where the “I” came from, but the other letters were D for defense, SC for satellite communications, and US for United States. There were many satellites in three families: DISCUS I, DISCUS II, and DISCUS III.
    Eventually, the last of these was replaced by a series name MILSTAR.

    There was another series of satellites in parallel with the DISCUS satellites, named FLTSATCOM, mostly for the U.S. Navy but also used in some cases by the Air Force. Of course, that name means “Fleet Satellite Communications”.

    So, sometimes the real meanings of acronyms can be more slippery than they seem.

  6. To: Glenn Farrell
    I find that one to be very amusing: saying “the great human cry” instead of “the great hue and cry” ! Thank you.

    Instead of “in other words”, my father always says “in ‘nother words”.
    Where he got that one is a big mystery, especially since he does have his doctorate in education and years of experience as a college administrator. What kind of a word is “nother” ?

  7. The verb “to hew” is one of those that has Germanic roots, and it is similar to a word in Modern German that means the same: “hauen”.
    So, back during the Dark Ages, someone who made his living by hacking or chopping on wood acquired the name “Hauer”.

    So, if you ever run into someone name “Hauer” in an English-speaking country that got a lot of German immigrants, that’s where the name came from: in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia.
    The actor Rutger Hauer is the most famous person with this name.

  8. Initialisms are fine when they are useful AND not tortured. Re the last I think of the Navy’s CINCLANT– commander-in-chief Atlantic, where we have to guess either that LANT is an initialism without its initial initials, or that LANT is lysdexic abbreviation for Atlantic. Or Most Awesomely Bad Military Acronyms or MAMA (just skip that troublesome B– intended as the joke, I hope)

    Also, “backronyms” that are roundly forcing themselves into a square:

    Sherlock Holmes Enthusiastic Readers League of Criminal Knowledge: SHERLOCK

    Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill: COLBERT

    Unless you are trying for some type of humor, don’t use acronyms that simply suck ASS).

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