Ahoy!

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geve

Senior Member
France, French
Ahoy forum!

There's a photo website out there that greets you in a different language each time you log in, and tells you what language it is. Last time I entered the website, it talked to me in English, and said "Ahoy".
I've read that it's originally a nautical term. I'm curious of what its connotations are, and whether it's used in all English-speaking regions.

Thanks!
 
  • Randisi.

    Senior Member
    American English; USA
    In my experience, it is pretty much restricted to its nautical usage or perhaps people trying to do a bad pirate imitation: Ahoy there, matey. Arrr!
    Of course it may be used by people who are just plain in love with all things nautical.

    For me, it's so tied to its nautical context that when used outside of it, I can practically smell the ocean.
     

    JeffJo

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, English
    "Ahoy" is very much nautical. In general it would not be used as a greeting. It could be used in a humorous way, in a situation where there are ships, or sailing, or water.

    If you're greeting a friend who's in the navy, you might say "ahoy," with a smile. If you were greeting a friend during a heavy rainstorm, you might say "ahoy" as a reference to the water. At a costume party, a person dressed as a pirate would be expected to say "ahoy."
     

    Randisi.

    Senior Member
    American English; USA
    To answer your other question, geve, as a nautical term all English-speaking peoples use it. But whether the Aussies and British, etc. use it in other ways, that I don't know.
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Oh, ok. It has been raining a lot here lately, if I can use that as an excuse for my greeting above. :eek: Thanks Randisi and JeffJo!
    Off to remove my eyepatch and put the parrot to sleep. My peg leg is killing me with all that humidity.
     

    Teerex51

    Senior Member
    Italian, standard
    Hi everyone, I'm reviving this thread in hopes of resolving a dispute that has developed on the IT-EN forum. I'm sure with your help we'll finally sort it out.

    The bone of contention is the expression Ship ahoy!

    • In light of its linguistic origin, I am convinced the expression is nothing but a call to hail another ship.
    • Others give it the meaning of "Ship in sight" and claim it's a "nice piratey way" to express that meaning.
    What say ye?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hi TRex. As far as I know it's technically for one ship hailing another ship.
    In Hollywood pirate etc. movies (as I remember them: I haven't watched one since 1935) one often sees Pirate A yelling it to all his fellow crewmen when he sees a ship on the horizon, meaning "I see a ship". Whether it's really used like this by seamen, or ever was, I have no idea.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Ship ahoy! sounds like hailing (and that's certainly one of the definitions I've read) but Land ahoy! sounds like sighting. So if I were voting for a common definition, I would go for sighting.

    (You realize I've just told you all I know and think on this subject. :))
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    By googling "crow's nest" "land ahoy" (taking care to use the inverted commas) I got a respectable number of results, although the other well-known cry, "land ho!", gave more.
    "crow's nest" "ship ahoy" also gave plenty of results.
    Obviously the shouts by the lookout in the crow's nest are to inform his own ship's crew of what he has seen in the distance.

    This seems a reasonable confirmation for those who
    give it the meaning of "Ship in sight" and claim it's a "nice piratey way" to express that meaning
    It's difficult to find out whether this was actually said in the old days. Nowadays we have radar.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Ahoy is certainly still used as a routine method of hailing other boats, it seems the right thing to shout, and sounds a bit more polite than "oi!". It's a waste of time with ships - they don't hear you. I do not know if "ship ahoy" has ever been used by a lookout other than in films. It seems unlikely - why "land ho!" but "ship ahoy!". We can, of course, never know as anybody who acted as a lookout on commercial sailing ships is now down in Davey Jones's Locker, or lounging on Fiddler's Green.
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    No one should take inept modern attempts to imitate "pirate talk" as evidence of nautical language usage in the 17th or 18th centuries.

    In Sailor's Word-Book (1867), by W.H. Smyth, a British admiral, "Ahoy!" cross-references to "Ho!" The entry is actually,

    "HOAY, or Hoy! a word frequently added to an exclamation bespeaking attention, as 'Maintop, hoay!' and is chiefly used to persons aloft [above the deck, in the upper masts and rigging] or without [outside of, off] the ship."

    There is no entry for "Ahoy" in William Falconer, An Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1784 ed.). That doesn't mean the word wasn't in use then, just that Falconer did not think it necessary to define it or describe its use for landsmen.

    The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary traces it to 1751 and describes it merely as "A call used in hailing."
     

    Teerex51

    Senior Member
    Italian, standard
    Very interesting comments, thank you.

    As a linguist and a sailing buff I researched this expression and came to the conclusion ship ahoy was only used for hailing vessels before ship-to-ship radios were invented.

    Some dictionaries, however, list a meaning of "registering a sighting", which I can hardly explain.

    Is (bad) fiction influencing reality? :confused:
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    Usage might have changed over time. Smyth is obviously reporting usage in the first half of the 19th century. The word might have been used differently in the navy and the merchant marine, although up through Smyth's time sailors were drafted or recruited into the navy in wartime and returned to the merchant marine in peacetime—the navy and commercial sailors did not constitute separate communities.

    If the word was restricted to "hailing," as both SOED and Smyth indicate, then "Ship Ahoy!" would have been used by an officer or mate on one vessel to gain the attention of the crew of another: "Ship ahoy! What ship is that?" "The Harriet and Elizabeth, 10 days out from Liverpool!" If it was used from the deck to hail personnel aloft, it would probably have been used in the other direction, by a lookout: "Deck ahoy! Sail in sight two points off the larboard bow!"

    If Smyth and SOED are correct, "Land ahoy!" could only have been used when close enough inshore for the hailer's voice to be heard on shore—a dangerous situation. "Land ahoy!" did not mean "I see land!" "Deck ahoy! Land in sight!" from the maintopgallant head would be possible.

    If the word "Ahoy" only developed in the 18th century, it would not have been used by most of the "pirates" preying on "the Spanish main," since that was mostly a 16th- and 17th-century activity. Pirates like Blackbeard (Edward Teach) and Captain Kidd were active in the early 18th century, and might have used the developing "Ahoy!" or it might have been in use long before OED could find a citation in print. In any case, the kind of usage Smyth and SOED report would not have included addressing a gathering of the crew of a pirate ship, on deck; it might have been used to attract attention the attention of the crew from a boat approaching the ship.

    There are, as far as I know, no recordings of dialogue on board the vessels of English pirates in the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries, and I doubt very much that there are any transcripts, either. Pirates were probably not highly literate, and any contemporary literary conversations are probably not very trustworthy. Robert Louis Stevenson could have had no firsthand experience among English pirates in the Caribbean.
     
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