Which Word Wednesday: Hoedown vs. Hootenanny

By April 20, 2011 language No Comments

It happens all the time: You are having a great time at a social gathering—feasting and merrymaking and the like—and you thank the host for the lovely hootenanny. The room quiets and crickets can be heard because you have just offended the host. This is no hootenanny. It’s a hoedown. [sigh.] That’s a social faux pas of grand proportion.

But in the stress of the moment, it’s easy to get your hootenannies confused with your hoedowns. And this week’s Which Word Wednesday is here to help!

Let’s start with the Oxford American Dictionary definitions:

hoedown :: noun
A social gathering at which lively folk dancing takes place.

hootenanny :: noun
An informal gathering with folk music and sometimes dancing.

Both of these words describe a gathering—one is social, and the is other informal. Both are folksy. One focuses on dancing, the other on music. Ron Evans makes this distinction between them in The Artful Nuance: the entry for people/persons1 caught my eye. Here’s what it says:

A hoedown is a community social event featuring organized square dancing, whereas a hootenanny is a community social event stressing the playing of musical instruments (such as the fiddle, guitar, or piano), though dancing can also occur.1

Oddly enough, Evans’s book was my only word source with the hoedown/hootenanny entry. Strange that the other sources don’t find this confusion stirring enough to include it in their works . . .

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What’s my WWW verdict? Socially speaking, one must make a distinction between a hoedown and a hootenanny. These are distinctly different occasions. Here’s how I’m keeping them straight in my mind: You dance at a hoedown and play instruments at a hootenanny. Easy enough!

What’s your verdict? Do you prefer hoedowns or hootenannies? Share your comments and be sure to cast your vote in the poll.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 118.

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