Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 14:14 UK

Why has 'hey-ho' made a comeback?

By Laura Schocker
BBC News Magazine

The phrase "hey-ho" is set to make its debut in the new edition of the Collins English Dictionary. But how did an old-fashioned saying make its way into modern usage?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
They got home from work eventually

Fans of The Ramones will know "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" and anyone who has watched Disney's Snow White will recall the seven dwarves singing "Heigh-ho" - although they pronounce it hi-ho - as they head home from work.

But why has this old-fashioned expression resurfaced again?

It appears the rather archaic phrase is enjoying a bit of a resurgence over the past five years or so - capped off with its inclusion in the latest edition of the Collins English Dictionary, to be released on Wednesday.

The new Collins "hey-ho" entry, which recognises both the hey-ho and heigh-ho spelling variations, defines it as "an exclamation of weariness, disappointment, surprise, or happiness".

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's home from work we go
Seven dwarves in Snow White

"It's the verbal equivalent of a shrug," says Duncan Black, an editor for the dictionary. "You say 'hey-ho' or 'that's the way it goes' or 'c'est la vie.'" It's quite a British way to stoically say "mustn't grumble", he adds.

The saying first appeared in print in 1471, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which says it has nautical origins, meant to mark the rhythm of movement in heaving or hauling.

Eventually, it blended meanings with the similarly spelled "heigh-ho," which was first recorded in 1553 and is defined as an expression of "yawning, sighing, languor, weariness, disappointment."

OED definition
It began as a nautical term

Hey-ho is similar to phrases like "hey, hey" and "heave ho," says Jane Johnson, senior editor of etymology for the Oxford English Dictionary. And over time, it has become a "meaningless" refrain in various chants and songs.

It had fallen out of favour in the past few decades, but recently hey-ho references have begun to creep back into popular usage.

Mwah, mwah

Hey-ho first made it into Urban Dictionary, an online collection of American slang, in 2006. The dictionary defined it as "a word used when something has not gone according to plan, to dispel one's feeling of disappointment. 'Oh, we've just missed the bus. Hey-ho.'"

So why has it come back into fashion now?

Social media is all about nudging and poking. It's a more amplified conversation
Tony Thorne
Slang expert

Mr Black thinks social networking sites are responsible, as it appears to be for other new additions to the Collins English Dictionary - words like "mwah" (a superficial air kiss) and "meh" (don't care or disappointed).

Internet users are prone to take sounds and expressions that are usually only used in speech and use them in written form.

"A lot of internet communication is written speech, or transliterated speech," says Tony Thorne, a language consultant at King's College London. "Social media is all about nudging and poking. It's a more amplified conversation."

Ultimately, finding written ways to express the visual - like shrugging - is a key component of internet communication and social networks, says Mr Thorne. "People introduce these light hearted conversational things which normally you only find in speech," he says.

In that way, he suggests, "hey-ho" could just be the new emoticon.


Below is a selection of your comments.

I've been saying 'hey-ho' regularly for at least 12 years. But my friends think I talk like I'm stuck in the 1950's, despite being 27.
Philippa, London

I think you'll find 'meh' was introduced into usage by The Simpsons, which led into early (ish) internet usage (There is more than a small link between the mid-90s internet culture and fandom of cult cartoons).
James Condron, Scunthorpe

It's a sign of the times. We are weary, fed up and powerless. What can you do apart from shrug, say "hey ho" and carry on, hoping that some day, maybe tomorrow, things will be better.
Grant, Bristol

Surely a lot of it goes down to the popularity of the Simpsons. Mr Burns uses "Hey Ho!" all the time. It is certainly one of the reasons I use it.
Chani, Aberdeen

I think Kurt Vonnegut was also a fan of "hey ho" - unless I'm going mental in my old age. That's what started me off on it, I think.
Dan Norcott, Loughborough

I remember Rik Mayall in the Young Ones saying it way back in the late 80's. I think popular usage among my generation (X) may have stemmed from that.
Brendan Costello, Vancouver, Canada

I use both "hey-ho" and "ho-hum" and invariably my girlfriend responds to one of my "hey-ho's" with a "ho-hum".
James Perry, London

Don't forget Noel Coward's "Hey-ho, If Love Were All."
J Eaton, Cold Spring, NY - USA



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