by Frank V. Persall
Ski-U-Mah is a University of Minnesota slogan that has been around since the 1880s. The slogan has a long history and it has been used by the Minnesota team ever since its initial conception by the rugby coaches in 1884. The Minnesota football team has the slogan on their uniforms in addition to the symbols of an oar and compass on the helmet. This represents the "Row the Boat" culture that means to keep going no matter what.
Ski-U-Mah is a catchy slogan that the Minnesota coaches came up within 1884 to rhyme with "rah rah rah" and Minn-so-ta. It originally comes from the phrase/sound "ski Yoo" that Captain John Adams heard cried out by the native boys at Lake Dakota during rowing and other sporting competitions.
He interpreted this phrase (incorrectly) as what he thought was a native Dakota word for winning. When he was brainstorming a slogan for the sports team, he decided to use this sound. He added "mah" at the end in order for it to rhyme with the other three-syllable phrases as part of their team chant.
Ever since then, this slogan has been used to cheer on all Minnesota sports teams and it has become a signature part of the university's sports history and culture. While the school's signature cheer has changed over the years, they have always kept "ski u mah" as a part of their tradition. John Adams can be accredited with the creation of this tradition as it was his experience with native life and how he remembered the native children and youths using "Ski Yoo" as an exclamation of joy or victory during sporting events that led him to add it to the cheer.
The traditional chant all started with a canoe and the Dakota tribe. The coaches at the time wanted to give their chant a particular Minnesota flair and did so by incorporating the phrase "Ski Yoo" which they heard shouted by natives whenever a canoe crossed the finish line at the Minnesota lake races. This also ties into one of the current University of Minnesota slogans, "Row the Boat". A coach came up with the slogan after his son passed away. It means to keep rowing on despite the challenges that you may face.
In addition to being a chant used during sporting events, there are also other uses of the phrase historically known around the University of Minnesota campus. In one example, "Ski U Mah" was the name of a speakeasy near the campus of the University of Minnesota during prohibition times where students would go to drink alcohol illegally after sporting events. There was a funny university magazine with "Ski-U-Mah" as the title. There was also a yearbook published with the same title.
To this day, "Ski-U-Mah" is a chant used by students and fans of the University of Minnesota to cheer on their sports teams. On the football team's uniforms, the phrase is printed alongside the player's numbers. Many people use this phrase without knowing the origins of it even though the university does try to educate students on the phrase's history. It nonetheless remains prevalent in the athletic culture and team spirit building at the school.
Captain John Adams in 1884 interpreted "ski-oo" as meaning 'victory'. This s because he heard natives shouting the phrase whenever a canoe went over the finish line in rowing competitions. Although this is how the captain interpreted what he heard, "ski-oo" is, according to experts in the Dakota native tribes, not a word used by the native Dakota's to mean victory. It is most likely just a sound made in excitement such as "woo-hoo" and does not have a true definition beyond that.
The "mah" at the end of "ski-oo" is only there so then it rhymes with the third syllable of the other third syllables in the cheer, namely "rah" and "ta." Even after multiple revisions of the cheer, "Ski-U-Mah" has always stayed the same. They did, however, change "ski-oo" to "ski-u" when it was printed for the first time in 1885.
The correct way to pronounce "Ski-U-Mah" is sky-yoo-mah with emphasis put on the second syllable "yoo." "Ski" is spelt the same way as the winter sports skiing, which may lead to those reading the phrase without hearing it to mispronounce it in this way. The correct pronunciation of the first syllable is "sky" as in the sky above.
In order to pronounce the chant correctly, there must also be an emphasis put on the second syllable. The original chant went as follows:
Rah RAH rah
Ski OO mah
Minn SO ta
It has been through multiple rounds of revisions over the years after the initial chant was made up. They added different syllables and phrases to produce the best noise. The "oo" was shortened to "u" when printed and it is correctly pronounced "yoo" with a slight inflection of speech at the beginning.
Ski-U-Mah is the University of Minnesota's official fight song. It was written by Floyd Hutsell in 1927 for a contest to upgrade the Gopher Pep Band after World War I. The original title was "It Makes You Happy When You're Smiling".
The song's reference to "the Wall of '73" has stirred controversy over the years. It refers to Minnesota's only undefeated football season that culminated with a 10-7 victory over Washington State in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Day 1973. Many thought this was an allusion to the Watergate scandal, which had already begun.
Ski-U-Mah was written in 1922 by Harold A. Hanson, a music professor at the University of Minnesota. The song tells the story of Minnesota's early days and its mythical beginnings.
Skidoo! Skidoo! Hurrah for the U of M,
Never mind the weather, win or lose or tie;
Cheer for all the teams, in any kind of weather;
Watch them raise that "U" in Victory sign.
Ski-U-Mah! Rah Rah Rah Ski-U-Mah!
Rah for the U of M.(3x)
Skidoo! Skidoo! We'll yell on every goal,
Our team is fighting, give 'em hell!
Watch that Indian score; it's bound to be a wow!
And when the game is over, we'll shout "Ski-U-Mah!"
Skidoo! Skidoo! We're for the U of M,
We love the whole gang, win or lose or tie;
Every loyal son will stand behind the team,
And when they raise that "U" in Victory sign.Ski-U-Mah! Rah Rah Rah Ski-U-Mah!
Rah for the U of M...(3x)
Ski-U-Mah! Rah Rah Rah Ski-U-Mah!
Rah for the U of M...(3x)
While many chant the phrase during sporting events, a lot of people do not know the origin story behind it. It can be traced back to an incorrect translation of a sound made by local natives when a canoe won a race in Lake City, Minnesota. It was thought to mean "victory."
The phrase "ski-oo", which is basically another version of the phrase "woo-hoo", doesn't have a true definition beyond being an exclamation of excitement. Regardless, it worked perfectly as it rhymes with "rah rah rah" and "minn so ta" as a third line in the chant. The victory chant has an interesting origin story that incorporates local native culture with the university teams' desire to win in competitions.
About Frank V. Persall
Frank is originally from the UK, but he has a passion for skiing that knows no bounds. He has made it his life's mission to visit the best ski resorts across the USA and the World. Frank loves spending time with his wife and three children on ski slopes, as they all share his love for the activity.