Hooliganism: Rioting; bullying; rough horseplay; “the characteristic behavior of hooligans” (OED). (For an alternate meaning, keep reading.) Hooliganism first appeared in print in 1898, in a police report in the Daily Telegraph (UK); hooligan also first appeared in print in 1898 in the UK, in the Daily News. When Arthur Conan Doyle used “hooliganism” in his 1904 Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, he capitalized it.
Officially, the origins of hooligan and hooliganism are “uncertain.” There are theories, though, the most plausible being the one summarized in the Online Etymology Dictionary: “almost certainly from the variant form of the Irish surname Houlihan, which figured as a characteristic comic Irish name in music hall songs and newspapers of the 1880s and ’90s.”
In the English-speaking world, hooliganism is mostly seen in the UK and Commonwealth countries, where it’s frequently modified by football (i.e., soccer). “Football hooliganism” is associated with unruly, brawling, destructive behavior. But in the early 20th century hooligan and hooliganism found an adopted home—and a different interpretation—in czarist Russia and, later, the Soviet Union. The words had pointedly political meanings: In the Soviet justice system “khuliganism” was a catch-all description for offensive behavior. The words stayed in the Russian lexicon and penal code after the fall of the Soviet regime, and remain there today.
Which explains news reports like this one from CNN, published on Saturday:
Three members of Russian female punk rock band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison Friday after they were found guilty of hooliganism for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a church.
Malynne Stevenson, an associate professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago, provided some context for this “hooliganism” in an interview published August 17 in Global Post:
In the Soviet Union and Russia today, hooliganism is legally defined this way: “In the Soviet Union ‘hooliganism’ (хулиганство, khuliganstvo) was made a criminal offence under the penal codes of the Soviet republics. In the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), article 216 of the penal code defined ‘hooliganism’ as ‘any deliberate behavior that violates public order and expresses explicit disrespect toward society.’ This article was used to cover a wide range of behaviors such as vagrancy, stalking, foul language, etc.” …
Lenin once declared that “hooligans” should be shot on the spot, along with murderers and tsarists.
“Hooliganism” is also used as a criminal charge in China and Iran, Stevenson said.
According to reporter Ben Johnson, who wrote about Pussy Riot earlier this month for Slate, most Russian antigovernment protestors aren’t charged with hooliganism but rather with “administrative violations.” The Pussy Riot case was different, Johnson says:
Members of Pussy Riot opened themselves up to the more severe accusation of hooliganism by choosing a church as their venue, and performing in front of the iconostasis (part of the church’s sanctuary, where women and other regular parishioners are not permitted), a choice that many members of the country’s largest religious group, Russian Orthodox Christians, have found offensive. Hooliganism charges can also be more serious if committed in a group, which in Russia’s court system is defined as two people or more.
“There’s only one punishment for hooliganism,” Johnson writes, “and that is ‘deprivation of freedom,’ which usually means imprisonment.”
Details about the Pussy Riot sentence, plus video and international reactions, here. For more about the Pussy Riot name and how it’s rendered in Russian, see Ben Zimmer’s post on Language Log. For more about the English-language media have handled Pussy—e.g., “a feminist punk group with a profane name”—see Arnold Zwicky’s “The Pussy Patrol.”