Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Not long ago this was a burning issue before the Washington Post copy chiefs, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why:

Is the plural of ho . . . hos? Ho's? Hoes? None of the above?

How often, I thought, could this possibly come up?

Well, it sure has come up a lot in the past week, thanks to serial A-hole Don Imus. I favor hos, but I thought it was a close call (see do's and don'ts and noes) and I didn't even remember how the debate was resolved until I started researching this entry.

The good news is, nearly everyone agrees with me. That is, they agree with me on hos, though my feeling that it was a close call seems to have been knocked down. The near-unanimity is rather startling. Only the Kansas City Star has used hoes in reporting the Imus quote, and that was only once. Ho's does show up, mainly in New York City, but the papers that use it tend to go back and forth between that and hos. Here's the breakdown among what LexisNexis considers the major U.S. newspapers (asterisks indicate occasional inconsistency, as opposed to the coin-flip inconsistency of the last group):

HOS
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Baltimore Sun
Boston Globe*
Boston Herald
Buffalo News
Charlotte Observer
Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Tribune
Christian Science Monitor
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Denver Post
Detroit Free Press
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Grand Rapids Press*
Hartford Courant
Houston Chronicle
Kansas City Star*
Los Angeles Times
Miami Herald
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel*
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Newark Star-Ledger
Newsday
Orlando Sentinel
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rocky Mountain News
Sacramento Bee
St. Petersburg Times
San Antonio Express-News
San Jose Mercury News
South Florida Sun-Sentinel*
USA Today
Washington Post

HO'S
Dallas Morning News
New York Post*
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

HOS AND HO'S, HOW TO DECIDE?
New York Daily News
New York Times
San Francisco Chronicle

4 comments:

Katharine said...

Bill, you researched this question using LexisNexis. You may not know that its owner, Reed Elsevier, has a division (Reed Exhibitions) that sponsors arms fairs, events that attract representatives from the militaries of many nations and that have featured cluster bombs in the past.

As a freelance copyeditor who does ESL (English as a second language) editing for many international physicians and researchers who want to be published in U.S. medical journals, I don't want to be associated with a company that helps provide access to weapons. I've stopped accepting projects from authors who plan to submit their manuscripts to journals owned by Elsevier.

I'm also urging people to boycott the BookExpo America and the London Book Fair, both organized by Reed Exhibitions, until Reed Elsevier directs its subsidiary to drop the arms fairs.

You can read more here.

Stephen Jones said...

I thought the 's plural for abbreviatons and initialisms had got deprecated. It was given as acceptable by Leach and Svartik in 'A University Grammar of English' in 1975, but is not considered correct in the CGEL, and Pullum has described (unfairly I believe) those who do it as 'ignorant'.

The problem with 'hoes' is that it can be confused with the instrument used for plowing, though of course in one sense of the word plow, that is exactly what whores are.

Bill said...

Some references, including Webster's New World, put an apostrophe in do's, as in do's and don'ts. I agree with the notion that dos looks odd, but I'm not sure how I feel about this as a solution.

AP style calls for apostrophes in plurals of single letters. I like this one, because all A's and dotting the i's become rather confused without the mark.

The New York Times only recently gave up on apostrophes with plurals of initialisms and numbers; I believe it's retaining them for all-caps headlines but concluding that extending the principle beyond that was ... a foolish consistency.

Stephen Jones said...

There's no real reason to have the apostrophe with the plural of initialisms as the change of case makes it clear enough graphically.

There would be too much confusion if the apostrophe wasn't used for the plural of individual letters

With 'do' and by extension 'ho' I suppose the apostrophe is there to avoid pronunciation errors (pronouncing the 'o' as short).