Hear, Hear!

This is a phrase that’s very easy to misspell. I find my instinct is always to write here here, and I have remind myself that the phrase is actually hear hear. Obviously it’s confusing because the two words are homophones: words that sound identical, but have different meanings. Plus, we use it when we agree strongly with something, and neither hear nor here are normally used in that sense on their own. Where does this phrase come from?

It originated in the British parliament, being used as the most common form of cheering in the House of Commons. In the late 17th century, Members of Parliament would use the phrase Hear him! Hear him! when they strongly approved of what another member was saying. By the 18th century, this became shortened to Hear! or Hear, hear!

Which makes sense, but you might be wondering why they don’t just clap. The reason is that applause has long been deemed unacceptable in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the British parliament, though it is allowed in some exceptional circumstances, such as Tony Blair’s farewell speech in 2007. Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice, the official guide to parliamentary etiquette, states:

Members must not disturb a Member who is speaking by hissing, chanting, clapping, booing, exclamations or other interruption… When not uttered till the end of a sentence, the cry of ‘hear, hear,’ offers no interruption of the speech.

So a phrase that has quite a specific origin based on the archaic rules for etiquette in Westminster has become a somewhat commonplace phrase. Not that we use it everyday, of course, but it’s useful if you want to show strong agreement or disapproval, when I agree just won’t cut it. Hear Hear!

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