Sometimes (and not just when you’re bungee jumping) you have to take a leap of faith – you’re on the edge of a precipice, and your horse is waiting for you down by the river… The pursuers are closing in behind, so, with a great shout, you jump… And what do you shout? Some people might shout some holy name. Many will shout “Geronimo!” We don’t expect any will yawn.
Geronimooooo! Good thing to shout, no? Sounds kinda like “you’re on a roll” or part of “did you run him over”. It has the growling, clenching opening Ger, like gathering your nerves and muscles, followed by two quick running steps and then not the frighted /a/ but the determined /o/, sustained.
OK, but where does this word Geronimo come from? Well, you can see by the capitalization that it’s a name. You probably know it’s the name of a famous Apache warrior – this guy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Goyaale.jpg. He sorta looks like the kind of guy who might have a name that can be growled or rumbled – or shouted with a sustained final vowel – doncha think? Sure, and that name was Goyaalé, also written Goyahkla or Goyathlay (the last consonant is a voiceless lateral affricate like the one at the start of Lhasa).
So how do you get Geronimo from Goyathlay? Well, you don’t exactly; you get it from Mexican soldiers whom, in one battle, he attacked with a knife even though they were shooting at him. They did what many people would do when a ferocious and possibly crazy person with a knife is attacking them: they invoked – shouted – a holy name. In this case, it was Saint Jerome. Jerome in Spanish is Jerónimo or Geronimo. And after that battle, that was the name that stuck with him. Is that an appropriate name? Well, he was said to have special spiritual or magical powers, and Geronimo comes from Greek Hieronymos, which means “holy name”. Goyathlay, by the way, means “one who yawns”.
But why shout Geronimo when jumping? Well, in 1940, the US Army were looking at the feasibility of mass parachuting of troops. The night before the first mass test jump, the troops at Fort Benning watched the 1939 movie Geronimo, about the eponymous Indian. In one scene in the movie, Geronimo gets away from the army by jumping off a cliff into a river to escape on his horse; as he does so, he shouts his name. The troops had some drinks after the movie, and one of them declared that he would shout “Geronimo!” as he jumped out the airplane door, to prove he wasn’t scared. And he did. And it caught on.
So… you are shouting a Greek name for a saint from where Croatia now is who translated the Bible into Latin, and you are doing it to invoke an Apache who was famous for fighting the American and Mexican armies, and whose real name referred to yawning; you are doing it because an actor (Victor Daniels, screen name Chief Thundercloud, part Cherokee and part European descent) shouted it in a movie directed and written by the American Paul Sloane, and the American paratrooper Private Aubrey Eberhardt imitated it.
Just something to think about while you’re jumping…