The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign is a gesture used to show support for the University of Texas at Austin, and particularly, for the university’s Longhorn athletic teams. Developed by students at the university in 1955, its use continues today. It is performed with the hand facing forward, index and pinky fingers extended, with middle fingers and thumb pressed against the palm. Hand signs are popular visual expressions of pride at colleges and universities across Texas and are prevalent at many former member institutions of the Southwest Conference (which ended in 1996). While institutions across the state lay claim to many distinctive hand signs—Baylor University’s bear claw, Texas Tech’s “guns up,” Southern Methodist’s pony ears, the University of Houston’s cougar’s paw—the Hook ’em Horns sign of the University of Texas is one of the most recognizable traditions in college sports, both in and out of Texas.
While Texas A&M’s “Gig ’em” hand sign—identical to a “thumbs up” gesture—was created prior to the the Hook ’em Horns, both were developed prior to the respective teams facing off against Texas Christian University. The Texas A&M gesture, developed by A&M regent Pinky Downs in 1930, referenced the practice of hunting frogs with a multi-pronged spear, or gig.
In 1955, with the Longhorn football team possessing a precarious 4–4 record, junior Henry Kirby “H.K.” Pitts suggested the sign as a morale booster to head yell leader Harley Clark when the two met at the Texas Union. Pitts invented the sign while making shadow puppets and recognized the gesture’s resemblance to a steer’s head. Clark introduced the gesture at a pep rally prior to the TCU game on November 11. Despite the Longhorns losing, the gesture was popular. Later that season, Texas played against Texas A&M in a televised game, displaying the symbol for a nationwide audience. By 1959 the gesture was common among students and boosters and was both photographed and illustrated in the Austin Statesman.
The gesture has been used consistently since its introduction and serves as a symbol of pride for supporters and students, even as the university has grown and changed over time. As an image of victory and solidarity, it has become a common bond among the wide variety of students that attend the University of Texas.