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Does Joyce, in Finnegans Wake or Ulysses, link the sound form "hoe" to "whore", as in the current day "ho"?

For example, is it probable that Joyce intended the (additional) modern day pun in the following line [Finnegans Wake p.g. 5.9]?

Hootch is for husbandman handling his hoe.

In Ulysses standalone "ho" appears 29 times, of which 24 occur in Circes, but all appear to be standard usages. "hoe" appears but once. This excludes portmanteau usages such as "hother’s". The prevalence of "ho" in Circes (a chapter of whores) suggests Joyce may have been onto this association. Perhaps for censorship reason? Does any Ulysses buff know more about this? Here are a few example.

MARION: Let him look, the pishogue! Pimp! And scourge himself! I’ll write to a powerful prostitute or Bartholomona, the bearded woman, to raise weals out on him an inch thick and make him bring me back a signed and stamped receipt.

BOYLAN: (Clasps himself.) Here, I can’t hold this little lot much longer. (He strides off on stiff cavalry legs.)

BELLA: (Laughing.) Ho ho ho ho.

and

THE CROPPY BOY: Horhot ho hray hor hother’s hest.

and my favourite, if the pun holds,

(Private Carr and Private Compton turn and counterretort, their tunics bloodbright in a lampglow, black sockets of caps on their blond cropped polls. Stephen Dedalus and Lynch pass through the crowd close to the redcoats.)

PRIVATE COMPTON: (Jerks his finger.) Way for the parson.

PRIVATE CARR: (Turns and calls.) What ho, parson!

Since this sound form is so prevalent in Finnegans Wake it would be important to know if Joyce is using this association or not.

I have searched Google Books and can find no contemporaneous usage (the 1930s or before), so suspect perhaps not. I have also search some of James's love letters to Nora, and while "whore" indeed appears, "ho/hoe" does not. I could not find it in Shakespeare either.

  • Has anyone commented on this before in the literature?
  • Does such a usage appear in any of Joyce's earlier works?
  • Do any such usages appear anywhere before the 1930s?
  • Is this the sound form for whore in any other language?

Note the the sound form "hoer" from the Dutch is different to "hoe". Finnegans Wake is riddled with foreign words, especially (but not inclusively) from the Germanic, Scandinavian, Greek and Latin languages, so all such variants of "whore" appear in the text. All those close to "whore" end in an "r" of some sort, while "ho/hoe" does not.

I have found an example [p.g. 20.35] in Finnegans Wake that suggests he was very close to making the leap, where ann is the "whore" river-wife [think Molly] of the aforementioned husband manhandling his hoe.

Flou inn, flow ann. Hohore!

Research reveals to "ho" gained popularity in the 60s, which is 30 years too late.

  • Demonstrating that Joyce was onto "ho"-"whore" in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, would, of course, completely answer this question, and I would absolutely accept such an answer without it have any discussion of Finnegans Wake.

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    I’d think it improbable , not least because colloquial Irish pronunciation of ‘whore’ is ‘hoor’, so unlikely to be contracted to ‘ho’. Is ‘hoor’ closer to the Dutch sound form you mentioned? Also, could you clarify why you are mentioning Dutch sound forms? – Spagirl May 11 at 8:55
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    @fundagain I think this question is perfect for Literature. The English-language sites might give you more info about the etymology and usage of these words in general, but you're asking in the context of literary criticism of a particular book. Keep it here :-) – Rand al'Thor May 11 at 11:56
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    Hoe has the same vowel as whore only in a few dialects of English; two examples are AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and some dialects of Irish English. See Irish dialect vowel chart in Wikipedia. Of course, James Joyce wrote Ulysses a century ago, so take this comment with a grain of salt. – Peter Shor May 11 at 13:15
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    @fundagain: "earlier history of non-rhoticity" means that Dubliners used to drop 'r's at the end of words and before consonants. And Joyce wouldn't use today's Hiberno-English, so some of the entries in the vowel chart are inapplicable. I don't know which ones, though. – Peter Shor May 11 at 14:00
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    @PeterShor As the OP notes, in Finnegan's Wake, Joyce was fond of using phonetics from different accents and languages to put multiple meanings into sentences. He was multilingual, and I'm not sure his native pronunciation is particularly relevant here. The question is more whether or not there is evidence he used this technique much in Ulysses. – Matt Thrower May 14 at 8:00
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+100

Most of these aren't saying "whore". The one that does is "Hohore", which according to this page is actually "ho whore"; "ho" here is the exclamation. Also, note the r in "hore".

The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest attestation for "hoe" (for any spelling without r) meaning "whore" is from the 1964 book Deep down in Jungle:

Main who', best girlfriend.

This is much too late for it to be something that was used in Joyce's books. It also comes from the wrong accent; the OED says that this shortening represents an African American pronunciation.


The spelling is definitely not censorship; Ulysses (for example, as Peter Shor says) has 47 instances of "whore" or words containing "whore".

"Hoe" meaning the tool and the exclamations "ho" and "what ho" have been around for centuries. Specifically, all of these came into use somewhere between the late 1300s and early 1400s. Both "what ho" and "ho" were used by Shakespeare: "What hoa: slaue: Caliban" and "Ho now you strike like the blindman" for example. Neither exclamation is used much now, although "ho" still shows up in expressions like "land ho!"

The line "Horhot ho hray hor hother’s hest" is just the croppy boy saying "Forgot to pray for mother's rest" with a tongue that is protruding violently. (It says a while back that "for his mother’s rest he had not prayed".)

  • thank you for your answer. Is there a simple explanation as to the disproportionate usage of "ho" in Circes? At least 24 usages in Circes versus 3 in the rest of the novel. – fundagain May 16 at 7:50
  • we my need to be careful with "It also comes from the wrong accent;". Peter Shor has noted that some Irish dialects are one of the two examples where the the final "r" is dropped en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Joyce might have heard some locals dropping the final "r" – fundagain May 16 at 7:55
  • But I have no idea what that "r" dropping would sound like: "hoe" or "who" or something else? – fundagain May 16 at 7:59
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    @fundagain: Actually, I said that this chart shows that for some Irish accents, when you dropped "r" from whore in AAVE, you got hoe. I don't know whether this was the case for the Dublin accent, where they actually dropped the "r". – Peter Shor May 16 at 10:00

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