jump to navigation
  • Tally-ho: From Fighter Planes to Norman Knights? September 2, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing has indulged himself in the last two months with a total of six RAF posts: all in commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He knows though that enough is enough and thought that he would start to wind down with ‘tally-ho’: he promises no more than a couple new air posts before October.

    Tally-ho was the word uttered by RAF fighter pilots over their intercoms as they spotted an enemy plane and plunged in for the kill. It remains in flying parlance to this day though its meaning has mutated somewhat with the years.

    Now Beachcombing knows that the words that pilots mutter to each other and ground control are often inexplicably strange. But tally-ho has an interesting and, in part, a verifiable history.

    Even today say the word tally-ho to a Brit and the vast majority will think not of planes but foxes. Indeed, until the UK ban on fox-hunting in 2004 tally-ho was the word used by horsed-up fox-hunters who had spotted the fox.

    In the context of the RAF this is, in itself, revelatory. The young pilots who were rushed into fighter planes in the Second World War came largely – early on they came overwhelmingly – from the upper middle classes where fox-hunting was part of England’s ‘civic religion’. It would be interesting to know whether the phrase was already used in the First World War by pilots from a similar social class.

    But where did the fox-hunting term come from? Here the controversy begins.

    Beachcombing will try to open hostilities with some statements of fact. The first time that tally-ho appears written in English as a hunting cry is in 1772. Its first apperance in literature is as the name of a bawdy sort, Sir Toby Tallyhoe [sic] in Foote’s play The Englishman returned from Paris (1756). Then its only prior occurrences in writing is as a placename – there is a Tally Ho in Gloucestershire and also one in Devon (Ho = Height, is Tally Brittonic in origin?)

    Here on in there is nothing but confusion.

    It is true that in French taïaut is an equivalent hunting word. And it is possible that, in the late Middle Ages or in early Modern England, this was borrowed across the Channel: fox hunting as it is understood today began in the 1600s.

    Beachcombing was going to be really irritating and suggest that perhaps tally-ho gave birth to taïaut. But the most authoritative French dictionaries give taïaut’s origins, instead, as taille haut(e) that has been explained, very doubtfully, as a battlefield instruction to take out swords!

    (Beachcombing would bet a beer or a cheap book that the swords being pulled out has no foundation.)

    Is a nativist etymology possible? In the context of a hunt ‘tally’ might perhaps mean ‘keep up’: tally itself could just about (?) be made to mean this in modern English.

    Finally, Beachcombing’s oldest edition of Brewer’s records: ‘Tally-ho is the Norman hunting cry, Taillis an! (To the coppice). The tally-ho was used when the stag was viewed in full career making for the coppice.’

    It would be nice to report that a word spoken by British fighter pilots could be traced back to the time of William the Conqueror, but Beachcombing’s first rule of history intercedes: the most boring explanation is invariably the correct one.

    Taïaut anyone?

    Beachcombing would love to hear any other explanations or any earlier occurrences or, indeed, any other uses of the word. Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Note just to complicate things Tally-ho is a cigarette brand in Australia employed, by all accounts, for smoking illegal substances. Beachcombing is appalled.

    Alan writes, 30 Jun 2017: The expression “tally-ho” was used when a hunted quarry broke cover, and this seems to fit with the etymology published in the “Dictionnaire de ‘l’Académie Française”, which states that it derives from “taille-hors”, meaning that the animal is outside (hors) cover (taillis). I don’t know what it would have been in Norman French, however, and the etymology is disputed (quite rightly, in my opinion).

    In literary sources, the word is first attested during the second half of the 13th century. There are several alternative spelllings which, in earlier sources, are preceded by a pair of syllables of unknown meaning. In those earlier sources (1387 to 1627), the pronunciation seems to have been “ta’o” or “ta’oo” (various spellings), whereas in the later sources it would be pronounced as “tayo” (also various spellings):

    Group 1: pronounced ta’o

    – From the “Chace dou cerf” (“Guide to deer hunting”, 1387): Ta ça, ta ça, ta ho
    – From “La Chasse” (“The Hunt”, by Gaston Phébus,1394): Sa sa! Tahou, tahou!
    – From “le Trésor de Vènerie” (difficult to translate: the word “vènerie” means “hunting with dogs”) by Hardouin, 1627: tha, tha, thahaut, thahaut (the “th” is of course pronounced as a “t”)
    Group 2: pronounced tayo
    – From the “Traicté de la chasse du lièvre et du chevreuil” (“Treatise on the hunting of the roe-deer and hare”, by Maricourt, 1655): tayo
    – From the “Vènerie royale” (“Royal hunting with dogs”, Robert de Salnove, 1661): tayaut

    – From the “Dictionnaire des chasseurs” (Hunters’ Dictionary, 1661): tayoo
    – From ” Fâcheux” by Molière: taïaut

    It would be interesting to know when it first appeared in English-language literature; in his novel “Waverley” (1814), Sir Walter Scott writes of “a loud taiout”.

    In English, the suffix “ho” is used when something is sighted, whether it be a fox or land (land-ho!, sail-ho!). Could this be its original meaning? The word “hola” was used in Old French and is composed of “ho! + la”, meaning “there” or “look there”. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that “hallo” or “halloo” was also originally used in hunting when the quarry was spotted.

    To sum up, I’d like to believe that it’s from Norman French, but I can find no satisfactory etymology.

    Could “ho!” derive from Latin hoc?

    Beach includes the Longer OED. Enjoy!

    tally-ho, int. and n. (ˌtælɪˈhəʊ) Also 8–9 tallio, 9 tally-o, -oh, talleyho. [app. an altered form of the Fr. taïaut (Molière, Les Fâcheux 1662), tayau, tayaut (Furetière), used in deer-hunting; earlier Fr. equivalents were taho, tahou, theau, theau le hau, tielau, thialau, and thia hillaud (Godef.).    The various Fr. forms appear to be meaningless exclamations. Much conjecture has been spent in vainly trying to put a French meaning into the English form by finding in it taillis coppice, est allé is gone, hors out, etc.] 1.1 The view-halloo raised by huntsmen on catching sight of the fox. a.1.a as int.    [Cf. 1756 Foote Englishman returned fr. Paris, Sir Toby Tallyho (name of a roistering character).]    1772 R. Graves Spir. Quixote (1783) I. 68 Jerry‥with the utmost vociferation, in the fox-hunters’ language, cries out, ‘Tallio! Tallio! Tallio!’    1815 W. H. Ireland Scribbleomania 19 Then at it, my Pegasus, here’s whip and rein, Tally ho! Tally ho! dash it bold o’er the plain.    1835 Encycl. Brit. (ed. 7) XI. 752 The view holloa of the hare is, ‘Gone away’; of a fox, ‘Tallyho’.    1859 Art Taming Horses, etc. x. 168 When a fox breaks cover near you,‥don’t be in a hurry to give the ‘Tally-a-e-o!’    Ibid. 169 When he [the fox] is well away through the hedge of a good-sized field, halloo‥‘Tally-o aw-ay-o-o!’ giving each syllable very slowly.‥ If the fox makes a short bolt and returns, it is ‘Tally-o back!’ with the ‘back’ loud and clear. If the fox crosses the side of a wood when the hounds are at check, the cry should be ‘Tally-o over!’ b.1.b as n. Also fig.    1787 Generous Attachment I. 115 One of his tallios would have sent them screaming out of their senses.    1830–83 R. E. Egerton-Warburton Hunt. Songs (ed. 7) xxvii. i, Beasts of the chace that are not worth a Tally-ho!    1860 All Year Round No. 71. 485 How the glad tally-hos, triumphant who-whoops,‥come from the very hearts of the farmers.    1955 Times 9 Aug. 9/2 Even the eminent scholar and social worker Liang Shu-ming has been cast out.‥ Throughout China the tally-ho of the party hacks is echoing. c.1.c attrib.    1825 H. Wilson Mem. (ed. 2) III. 96 A drunken man, in a dashing light green coat, a red waistcoat, and large tally oh! pin in his shirt.    1857 H. H. Breen Mod. Eng. Lit. 138 Perhaps the most characteristic style of all is the tally-ho, or Nimrodian style.    1922 Joyce Ulysses 571 A pack of bloodhounds led by Hornblower of Trinity brandishing a dogwhip in tallyho cap, and an old pair of grey trousers, follows from far. 2. a.2.a Originally, the proper name given to a fast day-coach between London and Birmingham, started in 1823; subsequently appropriated by other fast coaches on this and other roads, and treated somewhat as a common noun. Also tally-ho coach.    1831 T. Attwood 9 Oct. in Life xii. (1885) 184, I prefer your coming by the Safety Tally ho, because it puts up at the most convenient inn.    1857 Hughes Tom Brown i. iv, Tally-ho coach‥don’t wait for nobody.    Ibid., His father‥had resolved that Tom should travel down by the Tally-ho, which‥passed through Rugby itself.    1866 Geo. Eliot F. Holt Introd., The mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn; the hedge-cutter‥might still know the exact hour by the‥apparition of the pea-green Tally-ho or the yellow Independent.    1903 C. G. Harper Stage-coach & Mail II. ix., x., xiii. [much historical information]. b.2.b U.S. A large four-in-hand coach or drag.    1882 Howells in Longm. Mag. I. 55 There was a tally-ho coach which had been driven out from Boston.    1885 W. P. Breed Aboard & Abroad 127 Who could‥not take a tour of eight or ten hours in tallyho or wagonette?    1895 Nebraska State Jrnl. 18 June 4/2 A talleyho ride was taken by a large party of young people Friday afternoon.