College alumni share their memories of cheers, giant kazoos, Model UN, and more.
The Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared,
Who for? What for?
Who we gonna yell for?
—Alleged UChicago cheer*
*The editors of the College Review have seen the cheer “Themistocles, Thucydides …” in writing but have never actually heard it. Ever chanted it at a sporting event (or Model UN or anything else)?
The definition of “fighting word” varies by jurisdiction, but at UChicago “alleged” clearly qualifies. Alumni emails swiftly rolled in, documenting the cheer at UChicago (and elsewhere) beginning in the late ’60s, as well as asking the big questions: Where is the world’s largest kazoo? Below, a selection of these cheerful tales.
I absolutely remember hearing that chant (“Themistocles, Thucydides …”) during my years at the U of C in the ’60s, although I don’t remember the circumstances. It might have been as a joke at the demonstration against football in the fall of ’63. Or maybe during O-Week when some new second-year friends were introducing us to College life. Or some other time entirely. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but as soon as I saw the first few words on the page, I heard all of it in my head. I hope today’s students see the value of shouting it out, loud and proud.
Joan Phillips-Sandy, AB’68
The 1970 Homecoming game. Yes, it was a cheer. Everyone received a free kazoo before the game and took the field in a disorganized mess at halftime as the kazoo marching band.
Dean Polales, AB’75, JD’79
I recall the cheer during football games in the early 1970s, shortly after football was reinstated, but with some minor differences from the version that you posted. My recollection is that we used a squared and b squared rather than X squared and Y squared, presumably in homage to the Pythagorean theorem. Also, the last line was not “Go Maroons,” but simply “Chicago” from a lower part of the octave. We never used “UChicago,” a subsequent branding; the name we used was always either U of C or simply Chicago.
Steven J. Shapero, AB’74, JD’77
Alleged? I can confirm the referenced cheer was cheered on multiple occasions at University of Chicago football games in the ’70s (the decade in the last century, not the temperature of the field at game time), along with the following cheer of similar stripe:
e to the x, dx,
cosine, secant, tangent, sine,
3 point 14159,
square root, cube root, BTU,
sequence, series, limits, too.
And the always popular, “Perambulate the oblong spheroid up the turf!”
A more difficult mystery you might solve is where is Big Ed, The World’s Largest Kazoo? Lost more than a decade ago (no one seems sure when), the location of Big Ed remains shrouded in mystery or perhaps shrouded under a gray tarp in a University equipment garage. College Review stands uniquely positioned to inquire of U of C football fans of yesteryear what they may know about where The World’s Largest Kazoo can be found in these troubled times. Even knowing when it was last seen in public (at a game? at a parade? borrowed by another school? consigned to the scrap heap of silliness past?) would be of critical assistance in this mystery for the ages. Does anyone, anyone (Bueller?) have a picture they can send in to put on a wanted poster or milk carton?
Perhaps finding Big Ed can be included as a challenge for the next Scav Hunt. Goodness knows, those teams are resourceful.
By the way, my understanding is that Michigan State got Chicago’s spot in the Big Ten, and that Chicago could have rejoined the Big Ten, but gave up that right when it rejoined an NCAA conference some years ago. I have not, however, researched the relevant documentation. I’m sure an enterprising journalism student could track it down.
I have included Keeper of The World’s Largest Kazoo in every résumé I’ve ever used.
Donald J. Bingle, AB’76, JD’79, Former Keeper of The World’s Largest Kazoo
I just had to write about this edition of the Review.
The “alleged” cheer is not alleged. It’s the cheer we used when I was in the College. We used it at football games. In those days, a kazoo marching band would emerge from the stands to play something during halftime. By the way, when I was in the College, the quarterback of the football team was premed and the running backs were pro-ops [professional option program] in the B-School. So U of C ...
I recite that cheer when people ask what the U of C is like. That and the lyrics to the Blackfriars’ song “Living the Life of the Mind.” Then I tell them about “Hell does freeze over” and the Nobel laureate U of C T-shirts.
The U of C is my beloved intellectual home. I returned to Hyde Park for law school. I’m a lifer.
Mindy Recht, AB’81, JD’86
I was a varsity Chicago swimmer from 1978 to 1982, and we regularly chanted “Themistocles, Thucydides …” at swim meets. Other Maroon teams used it too; I think I heard it from the football bleachers. Everyone seemed to consider the cheer quintessentially University of Chicago—a quirky “humble brag” taunting competitors: win or lose, at least Chicago athletes are scholars living a “life of the mind” beyond the playing field (or swimming pool).
But in embracing “Themistocles, Thucydides” as unique to the University’s sports programs, I wonder whether we have done our homework. I arrived at the College in 1978 from Marmion Military Academy, a Catholic high school in Aurora, Illinois, with no special connection to the University. Yet I got to campus already knowing “Themistocles, Thucydides” by heart. Back then, Marmion swimmers used it too.
Did “Themistocles, Thucydides” emerge from Hyde Park and spread outward? Or was it born elsewhere, with Maroons adopting but not originating it? This cheer may be indigenous to Chicago, but it certainly isn’t endemic.
(And the less said the better about the cheer’s inglorious cousin: “That’s all right / That’s OK / You’re gonna work for us / Someday.”)
Donald C. Dowling Jr., AB’82
I never chanted the cheer myself, but I heard the cheerleaders yell it at a Maroons football game in 1980 or 1981. It cracked me up then, and it still does now.
Greg McCracken, EX’84
Yes, I have heard this cheer and chanted it at Maroon football games.
The cheer I remember had slightly different wording for the last two lines.
My first year at the College (1982) I had two second-years as roommates who were also cheerleaders for the football team. During that football season, I attended several of the Maroon games to see them cheer. This cheer was and still is so memorable.
Ann (Erdtmann) O’Neil, AB’86
I was part of the Model UN team from 1997 to 2001, and we absolutely would chant the “Themistocles, Thucydides …” cheer at MUN conference award ceremonies. Whether we took home the Best Delegation Award or simply did our best, the whole team would stand and cheer when the awards were all doled out. It definitely marked us as one of the more eccentric teams on the circuit.
Instead of “Who you gonna yell for?” for the second-to-last line, we used “What the hell are we cheering for?” which, to be honest, I think scans much better. After “Go Maroons!” we would finish off with a chant of “Kant, Kant, Kant!”
C. P. Hoffman, AB’01
So. I am now old enough to be a source on a “Did this really happen in the olden times?”–type story.
I did, in fact, chant the “Themistocles, Thucydides ...” cheer at U of C football and basketball games in 1998–99, when I was briefly in the pep band. (Does that still exist?)
Other cheers I remember:
2. Counting ball bounces during a foul shooter’s free throw setup dribble out loud in varying agreed-upon languages in order to distract them (e.g., Band Leader: “Ok, German this time.” All: “Eins, zwei, drei!”)
Ananth Ramanarayanan, AB’02
The pep band, founded in 1898, still exists. The band plays at football games, basketball games, and community events.—Ed.
I was a member of the pep band from 2003 to 2007. I remember chanting the UChicago chant at some of the football games we played at. We may have done the chant at basketball games as well. I think there were other verses but we never remembered them.
Andrew Shu, AB’07
Alumni Association, if you get one or more current U of C bands, official or not, to make a collection of 1914 U of C fight songs, I would definitely buy it, and I think many others would too.
Phil Gibbs, EX’85
Agreed! Take a look at The University of Chicago Song Book, which contains such classics as “Dear Old Midway,” “The Girl in the Graduate School,” “I’m Strong for Chicago,” and “You’ve Got to Study to Stay.”—Ed.
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