25

The other day, in a chat room, I was greeted with:

Hi!

I'm a nice person so I greeted back with:

Ho!

But then I got a reply:

No! I'm not a Ho!

I thought Ho is an interjection similar to Hey, Hello and Ahoy. But a Ho seems to indicate it is a noun? So I searched this word in a dict and found that Ho also means practitioners of an ancient profession.

I was wondering if I used the word incorrectly. But I can indeed find examples of greetings with Ho:

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Ho! the house a hoy!

There is also a Reddit discussion. The comments seem to indicate its usage is uncommon but valid.

My question is: Is it proper to greet someone with Ho in everyday speech? If so, on which occasions? If not, does Ho-Ho or Ho-Ho-Ho sound better?

  • 8
    just a question, where did you see that Ho was used as an interjection? – katatahito Jun 17 at 7:43
  • 39
    Are you sure the offense was genuine? I’d take it as playful banter in the vein of “hey!” -> “hay is for horses” – thehole Jun 18 at 3:21
  • 2
    @katatahito I was studying "ha-ha", "he-he", "hi-hi" and "ho-ho" with a dictionary, but didn't pay attention to "ho" itself. – Cyker Jun 18 at 4:00
  • 7
    @Cyker Like thehole says, a native English speaker would probably think you are just joking around with "ho" in this context (or maybe mimicking a song lyric): as the other answers make clear, "ho" is not a normal appropriate response greeting but the other person was probably thinking you were being funny rather than seriously calling them a name. – Bryan Krause Jun 18 at 5:23
  • 9
    "Ho" as a greeting is very old-timey sounding. "Ho, Traveler!" might be used in a game of D&D but you'll probably never hear a native speaker use it as a normal greeting. – Alexander Jun 18 at 15:02
42

Ho is pretty much unused in normal speech as a greeting. The two uses you listed are pretty much the only uses I have ever heard. Both are also somewhat archaic and traditional phrases.

"ho, ho, ho" is exclusively what is used to describe Santa Claus's laughter. (Or maybe the Green Giant)

"[Land] Ho! Ahoy mateys" is exclusively what cartoon pirates say.

(ahoy is also a word that is really just associated with pirates or dads trying to be funny on a boat)

It can also be used in music as a sort of nonsense or "sound" lyric if the writer needs to fill a syllable.

see the urban dictionary entry for the slang word ho/hoe which is a rude word to refer to a woman. This homonym is what the other person implied they thought you said, for humorous effect hopefully.

Another homonym is a garden hoe but people will typically think you are using the slang if you just say "Ho."

  • 25
    I was thinking of the 7 dwarfs "Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho it's off to work we go..." – Bee Jun 17 at 9:24
  • 16
    "Ho ho ho" in the case of Santa is interpreted by this US English speaker, and two others seated near him, as laughter, not a greeting. He's saying "hahaha", not "hi hi hi". – Deolater Jun 17 at 14:59
  • 17
    Also - Santa's "ho ho ho" is not a greeting, it's a way to write a booming laugh. It's a low-pitched "ha ha ha". – Chronocidal Jun 17 at 15:00
  • 7
    @whiskeychief Mr. Hanky on South Park says "Hidey ho!", which seems like a variation of "Heigh-ho". – Barmar Jun 17 at 15:48
  • 21
    "This homonym is what the other person thought you said." I think it's far more likely that the other person knew exactly what was meant and was intentionally making a friendly joke based on that homonym. Wordplay and facetiously pretending to misinterpret something are both common forms of humor in English. – Admiral Jota Jun 18 at 0:45
34

"Ho" isn't used in ordinary conversational English, except as a dialect variant of "whore", and in specific situations, such as Santa's "Ho, ho, ho!" (which I've always interpreted as just being a deeper-voiced version of "Hahaha"). Responding to "Hi!" with "Ho!" isn't a normal thing to do. Just say "Hi", "Hey", "Hello" or whatever other greeting you prefer.

If I said "Hi!" to you and you said "Ho" back, I'd probably assume you were referring to the well-known song from the Disney Seven Dwarfs movie ("Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go"), rather than calling me a whore.

  • This is how I'd interpret the speaker's intent, as a play on the song. – neontapir Jun 18 at 17:40
  • 1
    "Ho, ho ho!" would be the opposite of "Hee, hee, hee!" then - both the same as "Ha, ha, ha!" but differing in pitch. (See I am the Walrus by the Beatles: "Expert texpert choking smokers, don't you think the joker laughs at you - Ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho") – Darrel Hoffman Jun 20 at 17:35
  • @DarrelHoffman Completely agree -- that's a very good way of putting it. – David Richerby Jun 20 at 17:37
31

"Ho" is archaic. It has fallen out of standard use, but is found in older literature and references. It is still used by those who strive to keep old words alive. (Pirate and medieval recreation performers, notably.)

According to Merriam-Webster, it is an interjection which is from Middle English.

The 'Modern English' equivalent would be "hey".

Examples would be: "Ho there", "Land ho", "Westward ho", and (coincidentally) "Gung-Ho". I mention the latter is coincidental because it is anglicized from Chinese, meaning harmony in working together. In Modern English, "Gung-Ho" is used to express zeal and urgency to begin work.

Modern equivalents would be: "Hey there", "Hey, land", "Hey (go) west", "Hey, (let's) work".

In modern, Urban English, "ho" is an equivalent of "whore". The person who replied to you probably used this interpretation.

  • 2
    "Ho there" is still in maritime usage, and can be both a hailing or response and a call to attention, to stand by for the next order. It is not quite the same as "ahoy there". – mckenzm Jun 18 at 1:25
  • People still use "Ho there!" Also I'm a mumbler and sometimes "Hello" gets contracted to "H'o." I've seen other people do the same thing. It's not a good idea though because you don't want someone thinking you're calling them a slur. – some_guy632 Jun 18 at 11:45
  • 1
    +1 for actually mentioning the archaic usage of ho as a greeting, which I was surprised to not see mentioned in the other answers. – Hearth Jun 18 at 13:20
  • 2
    "Ho" also sometimes shows up in modern science fiction as a theoretical evolution of "hello" in the English of the future. A relatively famous example is the novel Ender's Game. Not something you should use in everyday usage, but might get some chuckles among the right geek crowd. – jmbpiano Jun 18 at 15:43
8

"Ho" as a word is a corruption from the French "haut" meaning "up". Related phrases include "Tally-ho!" ("taille haut!", or "Swords up!") or "What ho" ("What's up?") - although both are considered simultaneously archaic and posh affectations - and the nautical "Land ho" (for when land is sighted coming up over the horizon, as an alternative to "Land ahoy" - "greetings land" or "I see land")

"Tally ho", in addition, is heavily associated with Fox Hunting, so may carry additional negative connotations for some people.

So, beyond that "ho" is almost never used in isolation - but rather as part of a larger phrase. Your conversation could be translated as follows:

Friend: Hi!
You: Up!

Additionally, "Ho" can be used to indicate a deep booming laugh - a low-pitched "ha!" To rewrite your two examples with the above in mind:

Santa: laughs Merry Christmas!
Lookout: It's coming up! I see the house!

  • 6
    I doubt many English speakers are familiar with the origin of "ho" meaning "up", so they wouldn't interpret it as in your translation. The OP's respondent certainly didn't react to it that way. – Barmar Jun 17 at 15:46
  • @Barmar Very true - I only included that example to show that even if the word was used in its other meaning, the conversation doesn't actually make sense. – Chronocidal Jun 17 at 15:48
  • 1
    Did you mean Fox Hunting or fox hunting? It doesn't seem like it's a title. – snailcar Jun 17 at 18:40
  • 1
    “What ho!” is used as a greeting in the Jeeves books by P. G. Wodehouse; that's where many people will probably have heard it. (Note that it marks Bertie Wooster as affected — and that Wodehouse's style was already old-fashioned.) Some friends and I still use it as a sort of homage! – gidds Jun 18 at 8:46
  • @gidds, and that does seem to allow a literal translation from "what haute!?!" to "what's up"? :) – paul garrett Jun 18 at 21:51
4

"Hey there! Hi there! Ho there!" was used in an episode of Threes Company where Larry was a radio DJ. While in common speech this may be unheard of, but not entirely sure. May just be an outdated term or seldom used one.

  • "Hey there! Hi there! Ho there!" is a quote from the theme song of a children's show, the Mickey Mouse Club, that existed in the 70s (and perhaps before and after the 70s). – Swiss Frank Jun 19 at 17:14
3

I strongly recommend that NO English learner try to mimic the speech of what is perceived to be in style this week, or you will end up with some woman believing that you just called her a whore, which is definitely NOT cool.

English is hard enough without trying to grasp the social complexities of adolescent and minority fads in speech. You may not sound hip using standard English, but you will also seldom find that you have committed a major social blunder. There are quite a few woman who do not appreciate being confused with prostitutes.

  • No-one seems to be suggesting that "Ho" as a greating is 'current' or 'in style' - quite the opposite. As a response to "Hi" from a male, it is absolutely fine. – Mike Brockington Jun 20 at 11:59
  • Except it is fairly obvious from the reaction that "hi" did not come from a male. – Jeff Morrow Jun 20 at 22:41
1

Replying to a greeting of "Hi" with "Ho" could be construed as having called the person a "ho", which was commonly used as street slang as a shortened version of the word "whore". This is what may have been interpreted by replying "ho". This was a common term used in the 1980's and 1990's, often to describe or degrade females and denote that they were of low moral standards, were promiscuous, or did not conform to the expected norms for dating and relationships that were generally acceptable at the time.

It is a derogatory term.

Although commonly used to describe females, it was also used to refer to males at times although not as frequent.

An example in a sentence might be:

Girl 1: "Did you see that new girl in science class, did you see how she was dressed? All the boys wouldn't stop staring at her." Girl 2: "Yeah, she is probably just a ho just looking for attention!"

This would be the type of usage of the word "ho" that I remember hearing while growing up and attending primary and secondary school during the 80's and 90's.

0

I think the only acceptable to include “ho” in a greeting is if the “ho” is not not isolated. Such as:

“Hi!”

“Thundercats hoooo!!!”

or,

“Hi!”

“Talleyho!”

Arguably, that would still be weird, but at least not misunderstood.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.