“Who Dey?”

« previous post | next post »

You'll be hearing a lot of that Cincinnati Bengals chant today.

What does it mean?  How did it originate?

To understand the meaning, you have to put it in the context of the whole chant:

"Who dey, who dey, who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?" Fans then roar: "Nobody!"

So it's a rhetorical question.

The ubiquitous Bengals chant evolved from the name of Hudepohl beer, which is served at all Cincinnati games and morphed into Who Dey.  Mike Vaccaro tells the story of how it happened in "Bengals’ famous ‘Who Dey’ chant born from legendary Cincinnati beer", by Mike Vaccaro, New York Post (February 7, 2022):

Hudepohl Beer, to be specific. Back in 1885, Ludwig Hudepohl II, son of Bavarian immigrants, teamed with a partner, George Kotte, to buy the struggling Buckeye Brewery on Main Street in Cincinnati, a city teeming with beer halls and brew pubs thanks to an enormous German population. The renamed lager became an immediate hit and years later was one of only four local breweries to survive Prohibition. 

Hudepohl could’ve become a civic footnote like other mostly local beers like Iron City in Pittsburgh and Old Style in Chicago and Schaefer in New York. But it happened to be awfully popular in the city’s sporting venues — Crosley Field at first, later Riverfront Stadium — and thus was born a local rallying cry: “Gimme a Hudy!” 

Hudy it was. Which morphed into Hu-Dey. It didn’t take long for it to become the Bengals’ public mantra. And Cincinnatians are quick to remind you that the very similar “Who-Dat!” chant adopted by New Orleans fans didn’t become a recognized Saints cheer until 1983 (even if locals used it to celebrate other things for decades).

As for the derivation of the surname Hudepohl, I can't be sure about this, but one genealogical source (quoting Dictionary of American Family Names [Oxford University Press, 2013]) says that it is a toponym from Hude, probably meaning "grazing spot", + Low German Pohl "mud hole".  Given that many distinguished (and some not so distinguished) individuals have the surname Pohl, it might be more elegant to render it as "pool". (source)

Greg Jackson produced the first "WHO DEY RAP" video in 1989 for the Cincinnati Bengals who performed the song themselves.


Selected readings


[Thanks to Heidi Mair]


  1. Ralph J Hickok said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 11:42 am

    Long before "Who dey," New Orleans Saints fans used the "Who dat" chant.

  2. Brett said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 11:47 am

    While the Cincinnati form, "Who Dey?" may have been derived from the beer, the rest of the cheer was probably influenced by the Louisiana, "Who Dat?" chant. "Who Dat?" wasn't in widespread use by the Saints in 1981, but is documented as a cheer used at some high school and maybe college games in Louisiana by the 1970s.

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 12:31 pm

    The answer "Nobody!" is rhetorically a bit odd. "Who do they [people] think are going to beat the Bengals?" Certainly some people think the other team will beat them. Or "Who are they who think they're going to beat the Bengals?" Probably the other team. The best I can do is "Who are they who (people) think are going to beat the Bengals? They're nobodies!" Or "We don't care who thinks that. Nobody's going to beat them!" (The Wikipedia article on the Louisiana "Who dat" doesn't mention answers.)

    I imagine a lot of the Bengals fans who say "Who dey?" usually speak much more standard English. There's a continuum of imitation between the sincerest flattery and mockery, and I guess this falls on the acceptable side.

    Let me be the first to say I've never heard this chant, and I strongly doubt I'll hear it today.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:16 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    If you watched (or will watch) the video at the end of the o.p., you will have heard it multiple times. If not, at least you have read it.

  5. Not a naive speaker said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:23 pm

    The original German name must have been Hüdepohl; the umlaut was damaged while crossing the Atlantic.

    151,421 record(s) found for Hüdepohl

    6,279 record(s) found for Hudepohl.

    In Moerlein the umlaut survived albeit in an alternative spelling

    Ludwig Hudepohl II, son of Bavarian [recte: Hanoverian] immigrants
    The wikipedia entry says: Hudepohl was the son of Ludwig Hudepohl who emigrated from Malgarten, Kingdom of Hannover, in 1838.

    Hüdepohl / Hudepohl is definitly not a name from southern Germany.

  6. jfruh said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:33 pm

    @Jerry Friedman — I think you're missing the boasting aspect of the chant. The point is not just that the Bengals are going to win, but that their superiority is so obvious that nobody would dispute it. Obviously that's an exaggeration, but it's an exaggeration for deliberate effect. Add in the fact this is a chant you normally hear at Bengals home games, and you realize it "nobody" means someone like "nobody in this crowd" or "nobody whose opinion we respect."

  7. Ben Zimmer said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:44 pm

    See my recent Wall Street Journal column for more on the "Who Dey" chant and the "Who Dat" precursor. As Brett mentioned, there's evidence of the "Who Dat" chant at the high-school and college levels in Louisiana and Mississippi going back to the late '70s. The historically Black college Alcorn State may lay claim to the earliest form of it (see this article from Feb. 1979). The "Hudepohl" origin story is a popular one (as I've heard from many Bengals fans since my column was published), but it completely ignores the earlier history of "Who Dat" in African American English, reflected in both the phonology and syntax of the chants. (Hudepohl did capitalize on the chant after Bengals fans popularized in the '81-'82 season, when they introduced a Bengals-themed "Hu-Dey" beer can the following season, but there's no contemporaneous evidence that Hudepohl was the source of the chant.)

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 2:01 pm

    jfruh: Thanks, things like "Nobody in this crowd" and "Nobody we respect" make sense to me.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 6:27 pm

    From Nick Kaldis:

    As penurious students at The Ohio State University in the 1990s, my beer-loving Taiwanese wife and I discovered that Meijer's supermarket in Upper Arlington sold Hudepohl beer in longneck bottles by the case for around 5$. We loved the taste and the price point.

    Also, I think you know I grew up in Athens; I also played football for the Athens High School Bulldogs, where Joe Burrow would attend decades later.

  10. Scott P. said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 7:06 pm

    While the Cincinnati form, "Who Dey?" may have been derived from the beer, the rest of the cheer was probably influenced by the Louisiana, "Who Dat?" chant. "Who Dat?" wasn't in widespread use by the Saints in 1981, but is documented as a cheer used at some high school and maybe college games in Louisiana by the 1970s.

    Even if that's true, do you really think the population of Cincinnati had a deep familiarity with Louisiana high school football customs in 1981?

  11. Ben Zimmer said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 2:41 am

    Scott P.: There were intervening steps, of course. In March 1981, LSU fans used the "Who Dat" chant when the basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four. See this article from the Baton Rouge Advocate (also cited by the Wikipedia page for "Who Dat") about how two local DJs even made a song out of it. It's easy to see how that prominent use in the spring of '81 could have inspired a similar chant later that fall among Bengals fans, some of whom surely paid attention to NCAA basketball.

    Another Baton Rouge Advocate item from Mar. '81 (here) suggests the chant originally spread from Alcorn State to Southern University to LSU. That kind of transmission seems plausible to me.

  12. Coby said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 12:22 pm

    When I read the quote from Nick Kaldis, ".. I grew up in Athens," I assumed, from the name, that what was meant was the Athens, and that the "football" referred to was soccer. But then…

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 2:24 pm

    I am not finding it phonologically plausible that the clipped pronunciation "Hudy" somehow "morphed into Hu-Dey," absent a strong motivation to make it sound like "Who Dey," which would only make sense if that sound-sequence was already salient for other reasons. Which is plausible enough but that would mean, as Ben Zimmer suggests, that the direction of causation between the beer and the chant was the other way round than given in the story linked in the original post.

  14. rpsms said,

    February 15, 2022 @ 5:07 pm

    More than likely, "Hu-day" was a "Franchification" (google: "better off dead" french fries) to make the beer sound upscale for comic effect. Like going to "Wal-Mar" (Walmart) or "Tar-jay" (Target).

    Pretty easy leap from there.

  15. Opeyemi Omotayo said,

    February 16, 2022 @ 6:04 pm

    The phrase 'who dey' also makes same sense if used in the context of Nigerian pidgin English.

RSS feed for comments on this post