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JWB Origins: 'Hilo' (54* d) RE: Origins: 'Hilo' 23 Mar 11

Leafing through Hugill in pursuit of Hilos, I see that he starts his Part Three with "The Hilo Group". His intro to this section mentions the two ports of that name (Hawaii and Peru), and also points out that "sometimes the word was a substitute for a 'do', a 'jamboree', or even a 'dance'. In some cases the word was used as a verb…", though he goes on to write that its origin is mysterious. Hugill also writes, "…since shanties were not composed in the normal manner, by putting them down, it is on paper quite possible many these 'hilos' are nothing more than 'high-low', as Miss Colcord has it in her version of We'll Ranzo Ray. Take your pick!"

Good advice.

Later on in the section, he writes, "The place name 'Hilo' – whether in Hawaii or Peru – is pronounced with a soft 'i', but seamen always pronounced these soft 'i's' – in songs – as 'eye', e.g. Rio – 'Rye-O', California – 'Californye-O', etc. Therefore 'Hilo' was sung 'High-low', that is in the second refrain and in the solos, but in the first refrain I feel that I am right in saying that the soft sound was used – 'hee-lo-o-o', in this case it being a sort of yodel aimed at by good singers of shanties. Whall spells this first refrain 'Hilo" as 'Hee-lo', in the same way I do…Bone, a good authority, states that Sailor John often sang 'Tome's gone to Hell-O..." Hugill does include the chantey "Hello, Somebody" in this section, clearly seeing it as related, and states that he got it from Harding (the Barbadian), who told him it was "very popular in ships with coloured crews."

But then Hugill asserts, "I believe the word 'hello' was not in use much before the seventies." Gibb's research has turned up mid-19th-century examples of "hilo", but does anyone know if the word "hello" was not popular before the 1870s?

Hilo appears in verb form in the chantey "Can't Ye Hilo" in Hugill, in lines like, "Young girls can't you Hilo?" and "Let's all go on a big Hilo!" Stan doesn't say why he capitalizes the word in this case.


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