- December 17, 2009
- Posted by: Madrigal Admin
- Category: Word of the Week Blog
Ho is a word used to focus people’s attention. Lacking any real meaning it has been used for about 700 years (according to the Online Etymological Dictionary). You hear it a lot at Christmas.
It can be used after the name of a place to which attention is called, like Westward-Ho, from about 400 years ago. And was originally a mariner’s call announcing departures for a particular destination.
Heave-ho is similar in calling attention to a physical action or effort. It is also modern slang for being sacked or forcibly removed, as in being given the old heave-ho.
Tally ho is the cry of a participant at a hunt to encourage the hounds when the quarry is sighted. Probably an alteration of French taïaut from about 250 years ago.
Gung-ho, meaning unthinkingly enthusiastic and eager, especially in battle, was introduced into English during the Second World War. Lt Colonel Evans Carlson (1896-1947), the leader of the famous Carlson Raiders, used it as a way to build initiative in his marines. He used the Chinese motto, gōnghé (to work together), at meetings with his battalion. Thus they began calling themselves the Gung Ho Battalion.
Even hello is related to ho as it comes via hullo and hallo from hollo, a shout to attract attention. It was first recorded about 400 years ago. Hello, the American form took over from hullo, the English form with the spreading use of the telephone about 120 years ago.
A very modern, slang use is as an insult implying the subject is a prostitute. It is obviously a variation on whore.
By this stage, you might be thinking ho-hum (an 80 year old expression), this is so lacking in interest as to cause me mental weariness. Or the rarer heigh-ho (a four hundred and fifty year old phrase), an exclamation of yawning or sighing. But don’t despair I am almost finished.
Ho-ho-ho expressing laughter, so often associated with Santa Claus, you will be pleased to know is not an invention of greeting card publishers or Hollywood family films. It is one of the oldest recorded uses of the word and dates from about 850 years ago.
So have a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year from me and Madrigal Communications.