HUE AND CRY: a phrase that means “an uproar” over an issue

hue and cry

How many times have we heard it in a news broadcast?

“The hue and cry raised by the Senator’s announcement could be heard all the way to Washington.”

The meaning is clear.   There was an uproar.  People were upset.  The protests were about to begin.

I heard the comment on the news and thought to myself,  Exactly what is a hue and cry?

I went to Garner’s, my old stand-by for such information, and…sure enough…Bryan Garner had the answer.  It turns out that the term hue and cry is an obsolete phrase which was used in the military in more simplistic ages to refer to a “general call to citizens to chase down and capture a suspected criminal.”   It seems that in the early days of this country the police (or whatever configuration of law enforcement people) in a community were not always able to accomplish the tasks of capturing criminals.   There were no high-speed chases with over-powered vehicles.   So they signaled (somehow) to the citizens of a community that they needed help…a posse.   I suppose it amounted to what we have seen in cowboy movies, where men jumped on their horses and followed the sheriff in the pursuit of a criminal.

In today’s world, that is just the opposite of what police tell us.  They don’t want us to endanger ourselves by pursuing criminals.  We are supposed to call 911 and let the police do their job.  But there are more police around than in colonial days, and they are better equipped.  And…it may just be that criminals these days are more violent, capable of doing great harm to an innocent citizen who joins in the chase.

But there is a modern equivalent of this hue and cry motif.  It is called Amber Alert, a notice sent out nationwide regarding the abduction of a child.   On highways all across the country the message is spread on illuminated signs above the highway to watch out for a suspected person or vehicle, and if seen, call  the local police.   Again, it is suggested that people not take the law into their own hands.   Let the police do it.

The AMBER Alert™ Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.”*

Amber Alert has proven to be a very effective tool in the capturing of suspected abductors.  It is based upon the knowledge that the sooner the abduction is ended, the more likely that the child will be found alive.    There are variations on Amber Alert which have to do with missing elderly people, people with dementia, and persons with various forms of disability.

The term hue and cry is used differently in today’s world, however.   It is a term which refers to an uproar, or massive reaction, to an event or an announcement.    Garner says that it is the only way in which the term is considered appropriate in today’s world.  The former meaning is termed “obsolete.”

“Hue” appears to come from the Old French huer which means to shout, and Old French crier which means to cry.

An interesting aspect of the word study is that it is often used in oral language, but seldom written.  When it is written it is frequently mis-spelled as “hew and cry”...hew being a term which has to do with woodwork.    For some reason, people think that it is a more appropriate way to spell the word.  They are wrong.  Garner is generous in his criticism, saying that it is “misrendered.”


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