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In 1998, Judith Ann Schiff wrote an Old Yale column about the Long Cheer. Over the year that followed, we published these letters from readers.
Frogs and the language barrier
At a recent gathering of friends, including at least one Eli (not me), the conversation turned to Aristophanes' Frogs. I recalled that when I taught a drama course, students often questioned the words of the chorus, which became the “greatest college cheer”: “Brek-ek-ek-ex, ko-ax, ko-ax” (“Old Yale,” May). The students always complained that frogs say “jug-a-rum.”
I had been unable to respond, until one evening in the town of Joanina, or Yanina, in northern Greece. We had strolled from our hotel to a park along the shore of the lake, and we were astounded at the noise, which drowned out even the roar of the motor scooters racing along the lakefront boulevard. Thousands of frogs were cheering for Yale: “Brek-ek-ek-ex, ko-ax, ko-ax.”
I rushed to the hotel, retrieved my tape recorder, and made a tape of the original chorus of The Frogs! Aristophanes had it right! The tape became a regular feature of my course in Greek Literature.
Of course, the Yale cheer inspired the universal nonsense words of cheers all over the country, and thus preserved a vestige, however unrecognized, of Greek study in American Academia.
It was a pleasure to read the piece on the Greek cheer and to have some family stories verified as true. When I was a child, I heard often from my father (Russell A. Schmidt '44) and his older brother (Robert F. Schmidt '43) about the wonderful Greek cheer that had its roots in The Frogs by Aristophanes. When I arrived at Yale in the fall of 1966, no one knew what I was talking about. Since reading the article, I have had occasion to point several others to it. It was a good read, and in some cases friends remembered those odd conversations in the late 1960s.
Frogs on Broadway
I enjoyed Judith Ann Schiff’s article examining the arrival of the frogs' cheer into Yale culture. I thought a fitting coda might be a reference to the use of the cheer by Cole Porter '13 in his very late (mid-1950s) neglected musical Out of This World. In the opening song, “I, Jupiter,” the god announces, to a chorus of admirers:
When did the Long Cheer disappear?
I am wondering when “brek-ek-ek-ex, ko-ax, ko-ax” was last heard at a game in the Bowl. A friend in the Class of 1929 claims that it was used in his day, and I think it was in mine, but I’m not absolutely sure.
More mysterious frogs
Richard P. Thomsen pondered the question of when “brek-ek-ek-ex” was last heard at a Yale Bowl game. As a graduate of a somewhat later vintage, I cannot respond directly but I can offer this testament to the endurance of Eli tradition.
In 1984, after being accepted for admission at Yale, I learned that my Little League baseball coaches several years earlier (in the West Hartford town league) were Yale alumni (Bill Brownlee '38 and Bill Welch '39). I chalked it up to one of life’s many small coincidences and hadn’t thought about it for many years until I began reading the discussion in your magazine about an old Yale cheer.
You see, it is the custom of Little League teams, after each game and regardless of outcome, to exchange cheers. While most other teams were content with “Two, four, six, eight, Who do we appreciate!” or the occasional “Rah! Rah! Sis-boom-bah!” our team always serenaded our opponents with a rousing chorus of “brek-ek-ek-ex, ko-ax, ko-ax.” The origin of this peculiar chant was a mystery to all of us and, I’m positive, to most who heard it.
So, while I can’t answer for the Yale Bowl, I can say that as late as 1975, the frog chorus did ring out on a few small baseball diamonds in Connecticut, courtesy of two old Blues leading a bunch of sweaty youngsters.
Regarding the letter of Richard P. Thomsen '34: my recollection is that between 1939 and 1942, our cheerleaders would call on us for the “Long Cheer,” whereupon we would follow them in chanting: “Brek-a-kakek-co-ax-co-ax, Brek-a-kakek-co-ax-co-ax, O-op, O-op, Parabalou! Yale Yale Yale, Rah Rah Rah, Rah Rah Rah, Team, Team, Team!”
Since there was the Long Cheer, there must also have been a Short Cheer (which now escapes me), a whistle-boom for kickoffs, and a few others appropriate to different crises on the field. Several novelties were tried, including a “Yale Whale,” which went “Y-A-L-Eeeeeee-li-Fight, team, fight!" Since this seemed always to bring on disaster, it became known as the “Yale Wail” and was hooted out of the repertory as a jinx.
We had what seemed to me a great collection of “fight songs,” many of which have been “borrowed” by people who indulge in Spring Practice. I was pleased to see my opinion confirmed not only by this borrowing, but also by some authority who recently declared that Yale had more good songs than anyone else, never mind how few of its alumni ever get to the NFL. In this connection, a retired general once told me this story:
During the 1920s, a top German field marshal visited the U.S. and my friend, a Yale alumnus, was charged with escorting him around whatever military district included New England. For a bit of cultural insight to vary the itinerary, the general took the field marshal to the Bowl for The Game, where they say on the Harvard side. When the Yale fans rose to their feet and, vigorously waving their handkerchiefs, trumpeted forth “Bright College Years” (the tune is that of “Die Wacht Am Rhein”), the field marshal, who spoke no English, delightedly assumed it was in his honor. The general did not disillusion him.
The question of the demise of the “long cheer” is veiled in mystery as far as I am concerned. However, I am enclosing a copy of a page from the 1959 Harvard-Yale program, in which the cheer was printed along with some of the songs. My son, of the Class of 1967, does not remember whether the cheer was used in his day, but he does remember seeing it printed in football programs. My granddaughter, who is in the class of 2000, has “never heard of it.”
The photocopy page that Mr. Kane enclosed confirms Mr. Deeble’s recollection of the “Long Cheer.” It also includes the “Short Cheer,” which lives up to its name: The text is “Yale, Rah Rah, Team.”—Ed.
Watch a former cheerleader instruct the dean of Yale College in the Long Cheer.
Read Frank Gibson’s story of how his college master taught him the
Hear the call of the frogs that may have inspired Aristophanes.
Read the “brek-ek-ek-ex” scene from The Frogs.
Read Judith Ann Schiff’s 1998 column on the origins of the Long Cheer.
Send us your memories of the Long Cheer.
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