Hypercorrection of /w/-/hw/

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIOU.EDU
Tue May 25 19:58:44 UTC 2004

Come to think of it, my dad said "ho" to his big Belgian draft horses on
our Minnesota farm.  I never thought of that until now, since I always said
"wo" (yes, I drove those beasts occasionally too).  I wonder if there could
have been a transmission of "ho" from the immigrant English of my
grandfather? Or was it a common pronunciation among all before
print-oriented folk reinterpreted 'wh' as /w/?  My colleague from Missouri
just noted that he also says "wo" but his father and grandfather (of old
Anglo-American stock) said "ho."

I just checked my old New World Dictionary of the American Language (ha--it
prescribes /hw/ for all 'wh' words, including white and whittle and
whopper, though not of course who and whole).  Interestingly, it says "whoa
(hwo), interj. [for 'ho', interj.] = stop!"  So it allows two options, but
no [wo].  But under "ho" it lists the usual "Westward ho!" exclamation but
also lists (as from ME and OFr) "whoa! stop! halt!"  So presumably an
alternate spelling was sometimes used, and perhaps this led to a conflation
of "whoa" and "ho" to produce [ho].  Anyone check the OED?

At 02:39 PM 5/25/2004 -0400, you wrote:
>On Tue, 25 May 2004, Peter A. McGraw wrote:
> >> Speaking with my horsey clothes on now, I do not use /hw-/ when saying
> >> "Whoa! - no matter how fast the horse is going!
> >>
> >> Bethany
> >
> >But do you say "wo" or "ho"?
> >
> >I understood from the previous discussion that there was a consensus that
> >the discourse marker is [wo], never [hwo], and this has also been my
> >observation.  My original message was meant to address the horse command
> >exclusively, which in my experience is always [ho], not [hwo] (or [wo]).
> >This being the case, I was wondering aloud where the form [hwo] came from
> >or whether it still actually exists.
>Interesting. When I want the horse to stop or slow down, I say /wo/. I
>also say /ho/ occasionally - but not as a pronunciation of <whoa> meaning
>slow down.

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