“There’s an old story—and it may be folklore—but it’s a good story, about a little girl at Sunday school,” says Thomas J. “Sparky” Reardon, the former dean of students at the University of Mississippi. “The preacher sits the kids down and says, ‘Are you ready?’ and the little girl responds ‘Hell yeah! Hotty toddy gosh almighty who the hell are we?!”
It probably is legend, but Reardon’s story strikes close to home for Ole Miss fans across the country who grew up greeting neighbors with a friendly “hotty toddy” and can recite that chant by heart. “If you asked ten folks where hotty toddy came from, you’ll hear about ten different stories,” Reardon says. “Some people think that it was named after the drink. That’s nice to think about on a cold night, but I don’t think it has anything to do with it.”
Reardon is no stranger to the Ole Miss fan base. After graduating from the university and receiving his PhD, he worked there for thirty-six years. “I’ve done a lot of research in the archives, and if you look up college cheers in the 1920s, there were a whole bunch of nonsense cheers. That’s about when hotty toddy came along.”
Although no exact documentation exists, Reardon is partial to the theory that the phrase was initially borrowed and then transmuted to fit the student body. “The cheer itself potentially started at Virginia Tech with their regimental band, who called themselves the Highty-Tighties,” he says. “It seems like that got turned into hoity toity. Maybe someone called our fans that—and knowing Ole Miss students’ reputation and outfits on gameday, I can see that. But we took it on in a self-deprecating manner and it slowly evolved into hotty toddy.”
In November 1926, the student newspaper The Mississippian printed the cheer in its entirety for the first time. Since then, it’s been passed down through the generations, a call both to battle and communion for fans.
“The best feeling in the world is when you’re walking out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium after a win,” Reardon says. “You’re all packed together like cattle and you can barely move, and then you hear someone in the back of the crowd yell, ‘Are you ready?’ and like a wave, it comes all the way through to the front. It just rises up out of you.”
This article is part of a G&G series that decodes widely used but little understood phrases in college football.