Many people ask about the meaning of "Ski-U-Mah." The origin story that has been passed down through generations is as follows:
Princeton graduate Thomas Peebles was coach of the first Minnesota rugby team in 1884. When his squad would push over a touchdown, he would announce the fact to the world with a "Sis-Boom-Ah, Princeton." Thinking to retaliate when the opportunity was presented, some of the players decided to compose a yell of their own.
John W. Adams and his roommate, "Win" Sargeant, determined to devise a yell with a characteristic Minnesota flavor. Naturally, "Rah, Rah, Rah" was an obvious necessity in an effective college yell, and as something with a distinctive Minnesota flavor, he adopted the word "Minnesota," dropping one syllable and pronouncing it "Minn-so-ta." Two three-syllable lines needed a third, and he cudgeled his brains for a three-syllable Native American phrase that would express exultation.
The memory of a race between four Native American boys in two canoes, which he had seen the year before at Lake City, Minnesota came to mind, and he recalled how, as soon as one canoe pulled across the finish line ahead, one boy put up his hand and yelled, "Ski-oo." Mr. Adams, who was somewhat familiar with Native American life in his younger days, remembered that this cry was almost invariably used by young Native Americans when winning an athletic contest of any kind and that the Dakota children generally used this exclamation to express exultation or pleasure.
Another syllable was necessary to make it harmonize, and Mr. Adams added "Mah," to rhyme with "Rah" and "ta." As the yell was originally planned, the emphasis was placed on the second syllable of each line as follows:
Rah, RAH, Rah
Ski OO Mah
Minn SO ta
The yell was printed for the first time in the Ariel of 1885 in the following form:
Rah, Rah, Rah
Ski U Mah
About six or seven years later, the original yell was pronounced deficient in noise-making qualities, and a committee was appointed to revise the yell. The characteristic feature of the old yell, the "Ski-U-Mah" was retained, and the emphasis on the remainder was changed and a few new syllables added as follows:
Rah, Rah, Rah
With the emergence of "Go Gopher Victory" in 1925, the phrase was modified, eliminating the words "Varsity, Varsity" and adding the fourth syllable to Minnesota. The words "Rah, Rah, Rah" and "Ski-U-Mah" have found their way into a number of songs and yells.