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What Are The Origins Of 'Ski-U-Mah'?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- At the Gopher football game this weekend, there's a good bet thousands of fans will be chanting "Ski-U-Mah."

There's also a decent chance most of them don't know what it means.

So, what are the origins of Ski-U-Mah? Good Question.

The story starts at Lake Pepin in southeastern Minnesota in 1884. A University of Minnesota rugby player was watching canoe races and thought he heard someone cheer the term, "Sky-oo!"

"Like any good story, it becomes more myth than reality, so who knows if it's entirely accurate, but it's the story we tell," says Jake Ricker, director of strategic communications for Gopher Athletics.

At the time, the rugby player believed the term "Sky-oo" was a Dakota word for victory. It's not.

Neil McKay, a Dakota language specialist at the University of Minnesota, says he's checked with some first speakers of Dakota and found Ski-U-Mah does not exist in the language. It's also not part of the Ojibwe language.

"The consensus was that the original person either heard it wrong, wrote it down wrong, remembered it wrong or probably made it up to sound like what they thought sounded native," says McKay.

So, Sky-oo isn't a word and neither is "Mah."

"It starts with an 'M,' which is nice for Minnesota, but it really just rhymes with 'Rah,' so it fits with cheers and chants," says Ricker. "So, Ski-U-Mah was born and it's been with us ever since."

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