Ho hoe ho’s

A faithful reader of this blog, a thoughtful copy editor at a large metropolitan daily, asks a timely question: What is the plural of “ho”?

Radio host Don Imus said that word — and some others — in describing the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. He’s still dealing with the fallout of yet another botched joke uttered into a microphone. Imus, a broadcaster, didn’t have to spell the word; that’s left to us in print and online media.

“Ho” has many meanings and uses. (“Land ho!” is an example.) The word Imus used is a derivative of “whore,” but it doesn’t appear in print often, at least not in the pages of America’s newspapers and news Web sites. That’s why we are fumbling now. Here are the options:

  • hos
  • hoes
  • ho’s

Seeking precedent, we turn to Google News in search of Imus stories. Consensus is hard to find, however. An AP story on the San Francisco Chronicle site uses “hos,” as does CNN.com. Media Matters, a watchdog group, favors that spelling, as does its rival, NewsBusters. The New York Times story, on the other hand, says “ho’s.” The New York Post and Chicago Tribune go with “hoes.”

Several dictionaries list “hos” and “hoes” as acceptable plurals. The apostrophe seems unnecessary, and even The New York Times is steering away from using them in similar situations.

I like “hoes” because it reads like it sounds. “Hos” could be read by the unwitting as a word that rhymes with “gloss” or “floss.” The “e” in there reduces that potential for confusion. Still, I’m open to persuasion. Anyone want to push for “ho’s” or “hos”?

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3 thoughts on “Ho hoe ho’s

  1. You just need to wrap your brain around the fact that some nouns that end in “o” will become plural just by adding a little old “s”:
    dos (as in dos and don’ts)
    Oreos
    ‘fros
    nos
    No “e” is necessary!

  2. According to APStylebook.com’s Ask the Editor:

    “Do’s and don’ts” is common usage and AP style primarily because other punctuation looks and reads worse: dos? donts?

    So, if we were to follow that reasoning, it would be ho’s (although I would be OK with hoes, because it sounds right).

  3. I’d say “hos” because “hoes” is already a word and “ho’s” will just add to the needless apostrophe carnage. The single S signals it’s a plural; few English monosyllables end in a single S – it’s usually doubled or followed by an E – so the orthography really does point you to the correct pronunciation, even without the huge boost that context would give you.

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