Just beat it.

Dear Word Detective: Growing up in Detroit, we of modest means drove clunkers, sometimes referred to as “ghetto cruisers.” I hear the younger generation call them “hoop-dee’s.” I’m guessing this came from the fact that the creme de la creme of ghetto cruisers was the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, which got shortened to Coupe de. Then the “C” sound was dropped to make “hoop-dee.” My niece and her friends were not impressed with my logic and now I’m referred to as Uncle B.S. Just how full of it am I? — Alan Smithee.

Gosharootie! Alan Smithee, the famous film director? I’ve seen all your movies! Well, most of some of them, anyway. In a few cases I had to leave when people started throwing things at the screen. But hold on a moment. According to Wikipedia, “Alan Smithee” is the standard pseudonym used by directors who wish, for whatever reason, to disown their films and not have their real names appear in the credits. That explains the projectiles. So I guess I should just assume that this is a real question and that you’re hiding from your niece. Plus maybe you’re famous, right?

It may be because I wasn’t allowed to cross the street alone until I was 17, but I had never heard of “hoop-dees” before I read your question. Fortunately, other people have, and the term is actually listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED spells the word “hooptie,” although it also recognizes “hooptie,” “hoopty,” “whooptie,” and “whoopty.” I’ll stick with “hooptie.” As for a definition, the OED explains “hooptie” as being “A car; specifically an old or dilapidated one,” and their earliest print citation for the term is from 1968, in a glossary of then-current slang, which would indicate that the term had been in use for at least a few years before then. So “hooptie” is essentially synonymous, according to the OED, with such other slang terms for aged and/or infirm automobiles as “beater,” “jalopy,” “crate” and “clunker.”

It seems, however, that “hooptie” may also be applied to a car which, while it may be past its prime, is still an object of devotion and pride. The OED’s assertion that “hooptie” first appeared as slang in the African-American community would fit with popularization of the term in a number of rap and hip-hop songs, most notably the 1990 “My Hooptie” by Sir Mix-a-Lot (“My hooptie rollin’, tailpipe draggin’ / Heat don’t work an’ my girl keeps naggin’ / Six-nine Buick, deuce keeps rollin’ / One hubcap ’cause three got stolen / Bumper shook loose, chrome keeps scrapin’ / Mis-matched tires, and my white walls flakin’ …).

The origin of the term “hooptie” is, unfortunately, considered a complete mystery. The Dictionary of Regional American English cites an apparent ancestor, “hoopy,” as being heard, especially in Texas, in the mid-1960s, but that doesn’t help much. Interestingly, several references I have come across suggest, as you did, a possible origin in the Cadillac Coupe De Ville, and the more I ponder that possibility the more sense it makes. A “hooptie” is clearly by nature a large American-made car (like the 1969 Buick in “My Hooptie”), most likely a status vehicle when new, and still retaining some of its original cachet. That certainly sounds like a Coupe de Ville to me, and the phonetic resemblance between “Coupe de” and “hooptie” is intriguing, to say the least. So while I certainly can’t swear your theory is correct, and we may never know the origin of “hooptie” for certain, your niece should chill until she has a better theory.

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