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The pirate song “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest” from Treasure Island contains the expression yo-ho-ho.

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Does this signify laughter, a piratical variation of ho-ho-ho? It doesn’t seem like an amusing little ditty but then pirates probably would have a dark sense of humour. Or is it simply a more piratey song filler than na-na-na?

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up vote 19 down vote accepted

Accordin’ to yon pirate page, yo-ho-ho indeed be pirate laughter.

But there be also another source claimin’ that ’tis merely a scallywag’s variant of yo-heave-ho, the chant that all good sea-farin’ folk use to keep their rhythm when haulin’ cannon to the scuppers.

Seems ’tis likely yo-ho-ho be used to maintain the rhythm in yer fine sea chantey as well. When ye shipmates sing out yo, yer all be givin’ yon rope a hearty pull.

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On the other hand, "yo-oh-no!" means "where has all the rum gone?" – user362 Sep 19 '11 at 13:30
Hah, this answer is brilliant! :D – jcora Oct 4 '12 at 19:46
Because I just have to be that guy, I must add that "scallywag" or "scalawag" is not a pirate expression at all. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow uses it in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but it's a gross anachronism. The word was a Reconstruction-Era (1865 to 1877, long after the Golden Age of piracy) term for a white Southerner who allied himself with black freedmen and the carpetbaggers in support of Republican Party policies. Consider using the word "lubber" instead. – Malvolio Dec 25 '14 at 19:59
@malvolio Yargh, that I shall. Many thanks to you. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 25 '14 at 20:13

Yo-ho-ho is related to yoho, which is in the Oxford Dictionary of English:

An exclamation used to call attention: orig. in nautical use, hence generally; also sometimes used like yo-heave-ho int., q.v.

It dates from the 1700s:

1769 W. Falconer Universal Dict. Marine (1780) 11, Hola-ho, a cry which answers to yoe-hoe.

Yo ho ho may either have been extended to fit in the song, or an alternative version of yo heave ho or yoho.

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Do you think then it is a hauling shanty, and this signifies the pull? – z7sg Ѫ Sep 19 '11 at 2:20
@z7sgѪ Aye, t'is. – simchona Sep 19 '11 at 2:21
So, it's also related to en.wiktionary.org/wiki/yoohoo :) – coleopterist Aug 1 '12 at 16:28

During the construction of the Canals and railways in England, "Yo-ho, yo-ho" was called to signify the end of a shift.

English Navvies drank prodigious amounts of alcohol at the end of a shift. It would be nice to think that Robert Louis Stevenson made the parallel for Pirates.

Yo-ho and bottle of rum.

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Hello James, can you add some reputable citations to your answer? – MετάEd Oct 2 '12 at 17:22

I think james is correct. In the patrick stewart version of a christmas carol, maybe in the book also, when fezziwig is closing shop, he says " yoho ebinezer, yoho dick", to signal shift is over.

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