Who dat? is an English idiom originating from New Orleans. First referenced in poetry, the phrase was a common dialogue element between the performers and crowd at traveling minstrel shows in the region. Eventually, the phrase became used in US cinematic productions for two decades, including TV and movies. In World War II, the phrase became known as a source of entertainment for American soldiers.
More recently, the phrase “Who dat?” has become a chant of team support. It is most widely used by fans of the New Orleans Saints, an American football team. The entire chant is: “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” “Who dat” may also be used as a noun, describing a Saints fan.
The first reference to “Who Dat?” can be found in the 19th Century in the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, first in his poem “When Malindy Sings” and later in his lyrics to the song “Who Dat Say Chicken in dis Crowd”,] a featured song in Clorindy: The Origin of the Cakewalk, an “operetta” by Dunbar and Will Marion Cook that was first presented as part of E.E. Rice’s 1898 show “Summer Nights”. A common tag line in the days of Negro minstrel shows was: “Who dat?” answered by “Who dat say who dat?” Many differentblackfaced gags played off that opening. Vaudeville performer Mantan Moreland was known for the routine. Another example is “Swing Wedding“, a 1930s Harman-Ising cartoon musical, which caricatured Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ethel Waters, and the Mills Brothers as frogs in a swamp performing minstrel show jokes and jazz tunes. The frogs repeatedly used the phrase “who dat?”
In the swing era, “who dat” chants back and forth between the band and the band leader or between the audience and the band were extemporaneous. That is, there was no one specific set of words except for the two magic ones.
“Who Dat?” lyrics from 1937:
Who dat up there who’s dat down there
Who dat up there who dat well down there
Who’s dat up there, sayin’ who’s dat down there
When I see you up there well who’s dat down there
Who dat inside who’s dat outside
Who’s dat inside who dat well outside
Who’s dat inside, singin’ who’s dat outside
When I see up there well who’s dat out there
Button up your lip there big boy
Stop answerin’ back
Give you a tip there big boy
Announce yourself jack
Who dat up there who’s dat down there
Who dat up there who dat, well down there
Who’s dat up there, singin’ who’s dat down there
When I see you up there you bum
Well who’s dat down there
Staged minstrel skits featured frightened African-American characters saying “who dat” when they encountered a ghost, or someone imitating a ghost. Then, the “who dat”-“who dat say who dat” skit would play itself out. This skit was done frequently in short reels from the 1930s to 1950s and in some early TV shows too. Even the Marx Brothers had a “who dat” routine, which they included in their film A Day at the Races. “Who Dat Man? Why It’s Gabriel!” Often, a ghost was called a “who dat”. MGM’s animated character Bosko once had such an encounter in a 1938 toon called “Lil Ol Bosko in Bagdad”.
“Who Dat?” became a familiar joke with soldiers during World War II.
Back in WWII, US fighter squadron pilots would often fly under radio silence. But things get lonely up there in the cockpit, so after a while there’d be a crackle of static as someone keyed his mike. Then a disembodied voice would reply, “Who dat?” An answer would come, “Who dat say who dat?” And another, “Who dat say who dat when ah say who dat?” After a few rounds of this, the squadron commander would grab his microphone and yell, “Cut it out, you guys!” A few moments of silence. Then… “Who dat?”
Origins of the “Who Dat?” chant
“Who Dat” became part of a chant for fans cheering on their favorite team. It has been debated exactly where it started, but some claim it began with Southern University Jaguars fans either in the late 1960s or early 1970s and went “Who dat talkin’ ’bout beatin’ dem Jags”. Another claim is that it was connected with St. Augustine High School, a historically African-American all-boys Catholic high school in New Orleans, and yet another is that the cheer originated at Patterson High School in Patterson, Louisiana (home of Saints running back Dalton Hilliard) In the late 1970s fans at Alcorn State University and Louisiana State University picked up on the cheer. Fans of professional wrestler Junkyard Dog, a star on the Mid-South Wrestling circuit from 1979 to 1984 who frequently appeared in events at the Louisiana Superdome and Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, had a similar chant: “Who dat think they gonna beat that Dog”.
By 1983 the cheer had become so popular among fans that the New Orleans Saints organization officially adopted it during the tenure of coach Bum Phillips, and Aaron Neville (along with local musicians Sal and Steve Monistere and Carlo Nuccio) recorded a version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that incorporated the chant of “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints” (performed by a group of Saints players). The song quickly became a major local hit, due in part to the support of sportscaster Ron Swoboda and the fact that Saints fans had been using the chant for some time.
Meanwhile, in about 1981 Cincinnati Bengals fans and players had started with their similar “Who Dey” cheer (“Who Dey think gonna beat them Bengals”). In a 2006 article, Toni Monkovic, a New York Times writer, speculated that the 1981 popularity of the Bengals’ “Who Dey” may have led Saints fans to expand their use of “Who Dat”, from the “small number, and possibly a very small number” of Saints fans using it in the late 1970s to the much wider use of the chant in 1983. She noted that the fan bases of the two teams continue to disagree about this, and that ultimately the evidence is unclear.
“Who Dat?” spin-off chants
After the Saints won the NFC Championship Game on January 24, 2010, against the Minnesota Vikings in the Superdome, fans from all across New Orleans, including fans who were exiting the game, started a Mardi Gras-style “Who Dat” on Bourbon Street with modified lyrics, chanting, “Who Dat, Who Dat, Who Dat in the Super Bowl!” in reference to the Saints advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time ever in their 43-year history. In Super Bowl XLIV, on February 7, 2010, the Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. “Drew Dat” has occasionally been used in honor of quarterback Drew Brees.
Who Dat Nation
In recent years the phrase “Who Dat Nation” has become a popular term for the entire community of Saints fans. According to Bobby Hebert, formerly a Saints quarterback and currently a sports commentator in New Orleans, the term “Who Dat Nation” originated after a highly anticipated 2006 game between the Saints and the favored Dallas Cowboys, which the Saints won; after the game, listeners from a wide geographic range called into Hebert’s radio show on WWL (AM), and Hebert commented, “Man, there’s a whole Who Dat Nation out there.”
In January 2010, the NFL sent cease and desist letters to several Louisiana t-shirt shop owners ordering them to cease producing t-shirts bearing the phrase “Who dat”. According to some recipients of these letters, the NFL was claiming to own the trademark to the term “Who dat”, and that unlicensed t-shirts bearing the phrase would cause confusion among fans of the Saints about the official status of the merchandise. On January 27 one company tweeted about their whodat tee shirt cease and desist order from the NFL, and NewOrleans.com and Huffington Post interviewed the Monisteres about the NFL’s claims in relation to their company Who Dat?, Inc. The next day, the brothers released a statement claiming rights to the phrase to NewOrleans.com, which they registered in 1983 after recording the version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that incorporated the chant.The Monistere’s record is listed as inactive, meaning that it was not renewed upon expiration. The Saints organization, through their company The New Orleans Louisiana Saints Limited Partnership, also registered the mark “Who Dat” in 1988 when used in conjunction with “fleur-de-lis design”, but later the Saints released their claim of ownership to WhoDat, Inc., asserting that they owned the phrase.
The NFL’s action also provoked responses from U.S. Senator David Vitter and Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, among others. Vitter sent a formal letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell criticizing the NFL’s attempt to claim ownership of the chant, informing Goodell he would be printing t-shirts using the phrase, and daring the NFL to sue him. It was later reported that the NFL had responded to Vitter’s letter, stating that it was only seeking to prevent unauthorized uses of “Who Dat?” together with other identifying marks of the Saints.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell called the NFL and had a conversation about the ownership of the “Who Dat” slogan and of the fleur-de-lis. Caldwell said the bottom line from the legal back-and-forth with the league is that the NFL “is conceding it has no exclusive rights to the fleur-de-lis and no exclusive rights to ‘Who Dat’ and offshoots of ‘Who Dat,’ and no exclusive rights to the colors black and gold.” Caldwell said his office was drafting a document to be signed by the state and the NFL outlining what is and is not allowable.
On March 4, 2010, the Monisteres’ company, Who Dat? Inc., filed suit in federal court against the Saints, NFL Properties, and the state of Louisiana, alleging improper interference with their business interests. The suit alleges: in 1987 the New Orleans Saints were granted a license by Who Dat?, Inc. to use the Who Dat phrase; in that agreement, the Saints agreed that the mark was original and that Monistere was the first use owner of the trademark; the Saints also agreed to never challenge Monistere’s ownership of the mark or aid any one else in doing so; and the Saints were to also help protect the mark from infringement by others on behalf of the licensors (Who Dat?, Inc.). Who Dat? Inc. subsequently amended their complaint to name several local retailers as defendants, most notably Fleurty Girl, and the matter was set for initial hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on November 10, 2010.
In January 2012, it was reported that the NFL and the Monisteres had agreed to dismiss their claims against each other and to cooperate in the production of “co-branded merchandise”. The lawsuit continued as to some of the other defendants, pending hearing of their motions to dismiss the case. In October 2012 it was reported that the remaining parties had settled the case on confidential terms. According to one attorney and restaurant owner who had been a party to the case, “The net effect of the settlement is that nobody owns Who Dat”.
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