Where does holler come from?
The verb holler is recorded in the late 17th century for "yell," probably as a variant of words like hollo and hello—all attention-getting sounds. Early on, holler could also mean "complain," as in Quit yer hollerin'!
By the 19th century in the US, slaves were performing hollers, more specifically field hollers, a type of call-and-response work song. With roots in West African music and culture, these hollers helped lay the foundation of American popular music as we know it: blues, jazz, rock and roll, all the way up to hip-hop.
These hollers may have some deep influence on the contemporary word holler (often pronounced holla) in Black and Southern English, a term for "hitting someone up" or "getting in touch." This holler comes to prominence with the rise of hip-hop in the 1990s, when its sense expanding to "hitting on someone."
y’all i went to the store by myself right. this dude was tryna holler at me right. he said “damn what’s your name?” i kept walking. then he said “damn you should have a bigger booty for a black girl.” i turned around like what??? + pic.twitter.com/lw7jMup7zo
— 𝓓𝓮𝓮 🌻 (@deesorad) June 21, 2018
In 1999, legendary female hip-hop trio TLC released their hit "No Scrubs," which notably featured a cat-calling holler: "Hangin' out the passenger's side of your best friend's ride / trying to holla at me." Get outta here, you scrub ...
Holler also made a pop-culture resurgence in 2004 with Gwen Stefani's hit "Hollaback Girl." The song is a diss track against rocker Courtney Love, who dismissed Stefani as a "cheerleader." Stefani answered with her hook "'Cause I ain't no hollaback girl"—that she isn't like some cheerleader obediently hollering back at her squad leader's call.
Holler further spread in the 2000s as a general expression of excitement for just about anything, not just girls. For instance, one could say "Let me holler at that ice cream," meaning "I want to get at that ice cream." Holler! and Holla! are also issued as interjections showing enthusiasm. Drinks on you tonight? Holla!
In November 2015, an app called Hollar launched. It describes itself as a mobile dollar store, featuring cheap items with free shipping. The name suggests a blend of the hit-me-up holler and dollar.
And, then there's Appalachian English, where a holler is a term for a valley between two mountains, based on the word hollow and evidenced since the 19th century. Folk etymologies like to claim, though, that the term comes from people hollering to each other over the mountains to communicate.
Who uses holler?
Outside of the Smoky Mountains and its general use for "shout," holler is associated with Black and Southern English (the two share many features) as an informal way to greet, reach out to or contact someone, or acknowledge something. It's widely seen in hip-hop, memorably featured in 2Pac's 1993 "Holler If Ya Hear Me," about the problems black men faced in the hood.
Holler is also issued as an exclamation of joy, agreement, or excitement, such as winning a game or going to a party. This holler, however, does get criticized as a white appropriation of black culture. Ridic ...
So instead of paying attention to this lecture, I just bought $170 worth of @CalvinKlein for only $70. #holler
@rogiejewie, November, 2012
If you're going to holler at some ladies in their skimpy costumes tonight here's a tip from a guy who knows wassup: / Don't.
@brandonpagano, October, 2015
They had gone down the creek, got out, looked around and were getting back in the boat when they heard him holler for them.
Jody Hitt quoted by Tom Smith, Times Daily, May, 2018