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Blind date is part of story behind 'BTHO' yell

Susan "Sue" Owen '94 June 17, 2024 3:27 PM updated: June 19, 2024 4:15 PM

Left: Sam Torn '70 and his date Susan at Midnight Yell Practice. Right: Torn became head yell leader in spring 1969 and decided to make an A&M saying into a new yell that is today one of the most popular yells among Aggies. Photos courtesy of Sam Torn '70.
Left: Sam Torn '70 and his date Susan at Midnight Yell Practice. Right: Torn became head yell leader in spring 1969 and decided to make an A&M saying into a new yell that is today one of the most popular yells among Aggies. Photos courtesy of Sam Torn '70.

Some Aggie yells are more than 100 years old, but “Beat The Hell” is a relative newcomer: It became an official yell in 1969, thanks to head yell leader Sam Torn ’70.

Fifty-five years later, “BTHO” is everywhere: social media hashtags, Aggie T-shirts. And in fact, the phrase itself had been in use at Texas A&M since at least 1940. 

But making it into an official yell sealed the deal. 

“It's endured, and I think when it’s used correctly, I think it's one of our best,” Torn said. 

“I always tell the new yell leaders when they come in, you have to know when to use that yell and how to use it. You certainly don't want to use it if you're behind by 35 to nothing, you know; you've got to be smart about it. But I also tell them that if it's a close game, or a big game or something like that, when in doubt, just do ‘Beat the Hell,’ because the students love it.”

2024-25 head yell leader Jake Carter ’25 agrees. 

“As yell leaders, we especially like the yell because it not only boosts the energy but it's perfect for when there's little time left on the clock during a timeout,” he said.

“Personally, ‘BTHO’ is one of my favorite yells,” he said. “I'd say ‘Locomotive’ and ‘BTHO’ are the most popular yells in Aggieland… If a game is close and on the line, it's the best yell to rally the crowd and get them excited during the game. Especially after a big play, we usually do the yell ‘BTHO.’”

Back in the 1940s, the phrase “beat the hell out of” (a football opponent, for example) was in common use at Texas A&M. It wasn’t a phrase unique to Aggieland, having long been used in ordinary English. In fact, the University of South Carolina used it on spirit signs in 1932 and ’33

One legendary Texas A&M story that’s quite true: The Dec. 9, 1941, issue of The Battalion records that when moviegoers at the Campus Theater on Northgate heard the announcement that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, Aggie cadets responded with shouts including “Beat the hell out of Japan.”

In the following years, Aggie cadets used it in letters, on signs, shoepolished onto cars and even in 1965 painted on the side of a bulldog — specifically, Ranger, the dog belonging to university President James Earl Rudder ’32.

By 1969, when Torn became head yell leader, “beat the hell out of” had become a pretty common unofficial yell.

“Specific outfits and specific civilian dorms would gather together and just yell in unison, ‘Beat the hell out of’ whoever,” Torn said. “Not at athletic events; this would be just mainly in the Corps, and mainly just spontaneous. Or an upperclassman would have a freshman yell it and everybody’d whoop, or whatever, afterwards,” he said.

“It could happen before or after a yell practice,” he said. “Not during, but before or after, someone would yell ‘Beat the hell out of SMU,’ and everybody’d go, ‘Whoop!’”

Torn is now a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M and a member of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. But when he was a student, his goals as head yell leader included building the largest Bonfire ever and other ways to fire up the 12th Man. And creating a yell from this common phrase fit right into that plan.

“During the spring, I just came up with the idea. I told the guys, ‘Look, we're going to take that "Beat the hell" chant that you hear every once in a while, and we're going to codify it, we're going to unify it, and we're going to make it into a yell.’ So the other four yell leaders were in agreement with that. And we just kind of worked out how we would do it, which was real simple — you know, it's got, what, four syllables: Beat the hell outta whoever.”

The yell was a winner. Its use of the word “hell” drew a few complaints, but it got support from none other than Rudder himself, on an occasion when Torn was in the president’s office.

“He had told me he had received some letters, and right as I was leaving, he goes, ‘Hey, Mr. Torn.’ I go, ‘Yes, sir.’ He goes, ‘Beat the hell out of TCU.’”

And the passback, initially also a little controversial, was inspired by an incident in Torn’s dating life. 

Torn can give both the “official” and the “background, unofficial” explanations for that.

His fellow yell leaders, he said, “wanted to know what the symbol would be for the yell, or what's now called the passback. And as you know, the symbol is your left hand over your right bicep, with your right arm pointed up. So how did we come to that symbol?

“Well, during that spring, I had gone on a blind date with a young lady from the University of Texas, and had subsequently fallen in love with her very fast. But after four wonderful dates, she had informed me that she really had another boyfriend over at Texas, and she had been kind of dating me to make him mad. It worked,” Torn said with a laugh.

“I will tell you that I subsequently married this girl. She's been my wife for 54 years,” Torn said. He and his wife, Susan (Boggs) Torn '13, have three children: Scott ’95, Chris ’97 and Angela ’02 (Scott and Chris were also Aggie yell leaders).

“But during that time, she had dumped me. And so I was somewhat mad at the world about that. And so when the other guys said, ‘What's the symbol going to be?’ I gave that symbol, which of course at that time was a universal symbol [that was] not so nice.”

The gesture in question was once fairly common in the U.S. with a meaning similar to a raised middle finger, but it’s now much less used as an insult. It also had a less frequent meaning of “strength,” and this is how it came to be defined in context at Texas A&M.

“You’ve got the bicep, the hand on the bicep. It's a sign of strength. So that's the official explanation. I gave you the background, unofficial explanation,” Torn said.

“So that's how that symbol came to be, because I was mad at the girl that had dumped me at Texas and I'm now married to.”

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