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"What ho!" - this strange form of greeting is used all the time by Bertie Wooster, a character of well-known "Jeeves and Wooster" stories by P. G. Wodehouse.

Bertie Wooster: Oh, what ho, Sir Watkyn!

Sir Watkyn Bassett: Kindly do not address me in that familiar way, Wooster. I happen to know that once again you've yielded to the awful temptation to steal a policeman's helmet! .....

Bertie Wooster: Aunt Dahlia! What ho, old blood relation!

Aunt Dahlia: [affectionately] Hello, Bertie, revolting young blot.

What does "ho" mean in such expressions? Is it a word reduction or an idiom?

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There's also "Right-ho" he uses. One of the books is titled "Right-ho, Jeeves!". – Mechanical snail Sep 26 '12 at 2:02
Some of these unfathomable expressions are said to have been those of King George ll, a Hanoverian who could not speak English well. He would use silly-sounding phrases like 'Hey-what'. Sycophants at court would imitate him, and that is how the expressions came into being. I am not sure if 'what-ho' is one of them, or even if it was George ll. Anyway, it was one of the Georges. – WS2 Jan 7 '14 at 18:59
up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to this article, "what ho" is derived from "hwaet", which is the first word of Beowulf and is a sign of greeting. I don't think "ho" has a meaning by itself.

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It is just and interjection used as a call to attract attention or as an exclamation of surprise or delight. – American Luke Aug 4 '12 at 22:12
Yes, more or less equivalent to Wassup? – jwpat7 Aug 4 '12 at 22:29

In my opinion this is nautical in nature, deriving from "Land ho!", the traditional lookout's joyful cry on sighting land. Bertie usually uses this in greeting, and the meaning is roughly "What's up?", or "What's going on?" For a sailor, land is what is going on; for Bertie he doesn't know and he's asking.

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It's a Shakespearean reference. Try googling "what ho Othello" or "what ho apothecary".

I think it's probably intended to allude to Bertie Wooster's (presumably expensive) education and illustrate his flippant nature.

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Isn't 'ho' in this case from the middle english - meaning 'who'?

I dont have reputation to comment :( However, the Daily Mail is an English tabloid 'newspaper' which should not be regarded as a reliable source.

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The Daily Mail article is about David Crystal's book, The Story of English in 100 Words. He is one the most eminent and respected English linguists today. – Mari-Lou A Feb 4 '15 at 21:05

cf "Heave ho, me hearties!" - Nautical/Pirate-Speak! http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heave-ho

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Link-only answers are apt to be deleted unless you summarize the link’s contents. – tchrist Jun 17 '14 at 23:37

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