Where in Ireland, if anywhere, at the time of James Joyce (1882 – 1941), would "hoe" and "whore" sound similar enough to pun?

This question pertains to Does Joyce, in Finnegans Wake or Ulysses, link the sound form “hoe” to “whore”? from our sister site for Literature.

The first issue is rhoticity. While most of the English world is non-rhotic, according to Rhoticity in English - Ireland

The prestige form of English spoken in Ireland is rhotic and most regional accents are rhotic although some regional accents, particularly in the area around counties Louth and Cavan are notably non-rhotic and many non-prestige accents have touches of non-rhoticity. In Dublin, the traditional local dialect is largely non-rhotic, but the more modern varieties, referred to by Hickey as "mainstream Dublin English" and "fashionable Dublin English", are fully rhotic.

The Dublin non-rhoticity is why Joyce could successfully pun "haw" and "whore" in Ulysses. He heard the pun in real life (and of course all the non-rhotic English world would potentially get it).

But a "hoe"-"hoer"-"whore" pun requires non-rhoticity and a coincidence of vowel form pronunciations. That such a coincidence might occur somewhere in Ireland is suggested by my lay reading of Wikipedia’s Hiberno-English: Overview of pronunciation and phonology.

The modern day US "ho"-"whore" can only be traced back only to the sixties.

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    Modern day Irish may use the term cute hoor.
    – Peter K.
    Jul 7, 2019 at 1:02
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    From that Wikipedia article it looks like all the dialects in Ireland are rhotic so it would be strange for any of them to match how and white. But they are close and the difference wouldn't prevent Joyce from making a pun.
    – Mitch
    Jul 7, 2019 at 1:11
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    After reading the other post, the claim feels like too much of a stretch. In many instances of ho, there are perhaps a few where substituting whore would lead to something that makes sense, but that seems anachronistic at best since ho with that meaning is unattested. Furthermore, while the pronunciation question may be interesting in itself, I don't think it demonstrates a relationship between the two words in-text, any (Annie) more (Sir Thomas More) than weight has (hazmat) to (two) be (bee) a (uh) pun (punishment) for (four) wait or (oar) vice (vies) versa (Nissan Versa). Jul 9, 2019 at 16:39
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    @fundagain Reading the wiki page more closely: "The local Dublin accent is the only one that during an earlier time was non-rhotic, ". This I suppose is enough to answer your question?
    – Mitch
    Jul 9, 2019 at 19:21
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    James Joyce never saw two words he couldn't pun.
    – Robusto
    Jul 11, 2019 at 16:48

3 Answers 3

  • Though the generic Irish-English accent is rhotic (pronounces all 'r's), Supposedly, the accent in Dublin, where Joyce was born and raised, is (or was at that time?) non-rhotic. In that case, 'hoe' /hoʊ̯/ or /ho:/ and 'whore' /hoːɹ/ or /ho:/, are pretty close.

  • Joyce, being well-educated, might have been explicitly writing for a more general British audience which would more likely be non-rhotic. (this is pure speculation).

  • Puns don't have to be exact matches to invoke comparison. Witness all the horrible knock-knock jokes where the name standing a lone gets twisted into something nearby simply to make a tenuous connection for a 6 year old:

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?


    Mustache who?

    I mustache you a question, but I’ll shave it for later.

    This is only to address the issue that Joyce could be writing with an entirely rhotic ear and still be trying to make puns. I mean, it'd be easier to point out the few places where there's not a pun.

  • disclaimer: I don't have much familiarity with Irish accents. I'm passing on information I've gathered from elsewhere.

  • +1 Thanks. I will accept the highest voted post at end of bounty period.
    – fundagain
    Jul 10, 2019 at 20:38
  • @fundagain I really hope other jump in with data other than from wikipedia
    – Mitch
    Jul 11, 2019 at 0:14
  • What a terrible excuse for a pun. It's a good job it's a good one. Jul 11, 2019 at 17:42

The Null Hypothesis: Nowhere!

Certainly non-rhoticity, both of Joyce's Dublin English and the English of his typically readers, allowed Joyce, the pun-master, especially in Finnegans Wake, to pun haw-hoor-hoer with "whore". In fact, he punned "haw" and "whore" in the "Circes", the "whore" chapter of Ulysses. Even "hear"-"whore".

On the other hand, the idea that Joyce could see "hoe" (or "ho") as punning with "whore" is improbable.

While essentially immaterial to the argument, it should be noted that

  1. the modern day term "ho" for "whore" can only be traced to the 1960's,
  2. and no one in the literature has ever suggested that Joyce was making such a pun, which suggests none of Joyce's readers see such a pun!

But it is not about rhoticity, rather, is is about vowel pronunciation!

Consider the two words Joyce commonly uses for whore, "whore" ("haw") and "hoer", and compare them to "hoe" and "ho".

whore      as in oar  
hoer       as in lure
hoe        as in oh
ho         as in oh

No English speaker, let alone Irish English speaker, would every pronounce "ho" (oh) or "hoe" (oh) with the same vowel sound as the would "whore" (oar) or "hoer" (lure).

Hence Joyce would never have heard these words be pronounced sufficiently closely for him to see a pun.

  • If you think I am wrong, please vote me down. I will remove the post if negative at the end of the bounty period.
  • If you think I am correct, then please vote me up!
  • If someone gives a better negative answer than me, please vote them up. In such a case, I will delete this post and award the bonus to the alternative negative, if it beats the best positive answer.
  • This really is just to ensure a voteable null-hypothesis, that can be used to disagree with Mitch without voting him down.
  • In other words, I think Joyce might easily have made the pun, but I need you to say it. That he did, of course, only Literature can decide.

The pronunciation of "whore" as "hoe" stems from the so called 'dough-door merger' that some non-rhotic American accents possess, where the 'or' sound turns into a straight up long 'o' sound in certain words.

Examples, "more" pronounced like "moe", " floor " pronounced as "flow", " board" as "bode", etc.

  • 1
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