Worldly words ending in -oo

I was thinking about hullabaloo as my word of the week. When I tried to guess its origin I found that I was completely wrong—it is a native to England and Scotland. I had thought that all English words ending in -oo must come from a similar place, but the opposite is the case. I decided to be a bit scientific and to do a short survey of the origins of words ending in -oo.

First I Googled “words ending with oo”. There were too many invented words in the list. To narrow the list down I used an old Little Oxford Dictionary to select mainstream words and to filter out obscure and newly adopted words. I ended up with 31 words ending with oo: Ballyhoo, Bamboo, Boo, Buckaroo, Cockatoo, Coo, Cuckoo, Didgeridoo, Goo, Halloo, Hoodoo, Hullabaloo, Igloo, Jackaroo, Kangaroo, Loo, Moo, Peekaboo, Shampoo, Shoo, Taboo, Tattoo (1), Tattoo (2), Too, Vindaloo, Voodoo, Wallaroo, Waterloo, Woo, Yahoo, and Zoo. There is probably a bit of cultural bias in this so forgive me for that.

I then did a short analysis of their origins and meanings. Words ending in -oo seem to come from all over the world. There are representatives from small languages such as Innuit (igloo), Malay (bamboo), Pacific Islands (tattoo and taboo) and Australian Indigenous languages (kangaroo) as well as the larger languages such as Hindi (shampoo), Greek (zoo), French (loo) as well as many words from US and UK English.

There is a certain quirkiness about -oo words with their origins coming from slang words from English circuses, the Western Front, the Wild West and Outback Australia; from the imitation of natural sounds such as the call of the cuckoo and the coo of doves; from literature (yahoo from the writings of Jonathan Swift); and to describe the flora and fauna of exotic places such as Australia and Malaya.


Publicity or hype (1908) from English circus slang for a short sample of a sideshow (1901). It is of unknown origin—there is a village of Ballyhooly in County Cork, Ireland; in nautical lingo, ballahou or ballahoo (1867, perhaps 1836) meant an ungainly vessel, from Spanish balahu for schooner.


The tall strong plant from the grass family (1590s). It came via Dutch bamboe and Portugeuse, bambu and earlier mambu (16c.), from the Malay word samambu.


To startle, boh, a word used to produce a loud and startling sound. It may be related to Greek, boaein, to cry aloud, roar or shout (early 15c).


In the western U.S. a cowboy, especially a broncobuster or horsebreaker (1820–30). Evolved via bakhara, baccaro, bucharo from the Spanish vaquero, vac for cow and ero for person.


Species of large and noisy parrots from Dutch kaketoe, originally from Malay, kakatua, possibly echoic, or from kakak meaning elder brother or sister and tua, old (1610s).


The sound of doves (1660s) from England.


The bird that heralds the spring, from Old French, cocu, echoic of the male bird’s mating cry. Greek kokkyx (mid-13c). Used to mean stupid person in 1580s.


Musical instrument of Australian First Nations people made from a long wooden tube that when blown into creates a low drone (1924).


First used in US English in 1903 of obscure origin, but probably related to burgoo (1787) for a thick porridge served to English sailors and then in the US a thick meat and vegetable stew.


Version of hallo, holla, or hollo a shout to attract attention, which seems to go back to at least c.1400 English. Perhaps from holla to stop, cease.


One who practices voodoo (1870) in US English. It is most likely an alteration of voodoo. First used to mean something that causes or brings bad luck in 1880.


From hollo-ballo meaning an uproar, chiefly used in northern England and Scottish, perhaps a rhyming reduplication of hollo (see halloo) (1762).


Canadian First Nation word—Innuit word for house or dwelling (1824).


An abbreviation of Jack(the kang)aroo used to describe inexperienced colonists in Australia (1880). Also Jillaroo.


The large Australian macropod. The word probably is from the Guugu Yimidhirr (Endeavour River-area First Nations language) word, gangurru, for large black kangaroo (1770).


Lavatory perhaps from 1922 from French, lieux d’aisances, meaning lavatory but the literal translation is place of ease. Thought to be adopted by British servicemen in France during World War I.


To make the characteristic sound of a cow (1540s) of imitative origin, English.


Peek-a-boo, as a children’s game from 1590s in England. Used to mean see-through, dates from 1895.


Meaning wash the hair first recorded in 1860. It originated in 1762, meaning to massage in Anglo-Indian from Hindi champo, meaning to press, or knead the muscles.


A call used for driving away people or animals (1620s) from the exclamation (late 15c.). A shoo-in as an easy winner was originally a horse that wins a race by pre-arrangement (1928). English.


Something that is consecrated, inviolable, forbidden, unclean or cursed. First used in 1777 by Captain James Cook in his book A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes said to be Tongan, ta-bu meaning sacred, from ta, mark, and bu, especially but used in many Pacific languages, eg, Hawaiian kapu, Tahitian tapu and Maori tapu with similar meanings.


Originally a signal calling soldiers or sailors to quarters at night from Dutch taptoe, from tap faucet of a cask and toe shut. So called because police used to visit taverns in the evening to shut off the taps of casks (1680s). Not related to skin tattoo (see below).


To mark the skin with pigment (1769) first attested in writing by Captain James Cook from a Polynesian noun, Tahitian and Samoan tatau, and Marquesan tatu.


Preposition meaning furthermore. The version of the word ending in oo is first recorded 1590 in English.


A hot sauce used in Indian food. Thought to come from Portuguese vin d’alho for wine and garlic sauce in the early 20c.


Religious witchcraft of Haiti and Southern U.S, from Louisiana French voudou, but originally from West Africa, perhaps Dahomey (1850).


Australian First Nations people  word for a species of black kangaroo.


After the battle that took place June 18, 1815, at the village near Brussels where Napolean was finally defeated. Used metaphorically to mean a final, crushing defeat first in a letter by Lord Byron in 1816. Flemish loo means sacred wood.


To seek the favor, affection, or love of someone, especially with a view to marriage. It is an old English word, wogian, of uncertain origin perhaps related to woh, wog, for bent or inclined, as with affection.


A brute in human form (1726) from the race of brutish human creatures in the English writer’s Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The Internet search engine named in 1994.


Short for Zoological Gardens of the London Zoological Society, established 1828 in Regent’s Park (1847) from Greek zoion for an animal, but literally a living being.

Pie chart showing national origins of words ending with -oo.The family of words ending in -oo must be the most multicultural group of words in the English language—they come from all over the world and from many different languages.