Hey is Not for Horses!


Have you ever been called a jackass for using the word “hey”?

“Hay is for horses,” they say. Then they get mean and ornery and say, “Aren’t you glad you’re a jackass!” That’s not nice! Who are these people? Idiots? Do they not like interjections? Are they not aware that “hey” is a very common term?

According to the dictionary:

Brief History of the Word “Hey”

A word sounding like “hey” has been used in the English language since Middle English times: Middle English “hei” was used to call someone’s attention and also to express anger, derision, or opposition. Hei could also be used to urge dogs on during the hunt and to express grief or concern — this was probably a long, drawn out hey. The word possibly originated simply as an imitation of the various loud, meaningless exclamations that people utter when they are surprised or trying to attract the attention of others. Source

There you have it, “hey” has been around for quite some time. It’s not a new word like listicle, froyo or photobomb. But the real question is: Have these hey-haters never heard of homonyms or words that sound the same, but have different meanings? Actually, it turns out that what I was taught in school about homonyms was wrong. I kind of fell down a rabbit hole trying to make heads or tails of homonyms and all the grammatical variants associated with this term. This is what I came up with, but I’m still confused.

Down the Rabbit Hole


A homonym is actually a word that is spelled and pronounced the same, yet has a different meaning (the bark of a dog/the bark of a tree). Homonyms have two cousins: homographs (Spelling is the same, but pronunciation and meaning are different — lead the metal/to lead the verb), and homophones (Meaning and spelling are different, but pronounced the same — two/too/to). Thus, “hay” and “hey” are technically homophones. The English language is littered with these words, but we deal with them, right? We don’t point them out every time someone uses one. I wonder if these hey-haters also say things like this:

You: Have you read this book?
Them: Red is a color.
You: Did you see that movie?
Them: The sea is a body of water.
You: When is this due?
Them: Do is a verb.

Brilliant Retort

You get the idea. The big question is: What irks these people about the word “hey”? I have no idea, but I think people actually stopped complaining about “hey” after some genius came up with a great comeback: “Aren’t you glad you’re a jackass.” Once that retort became in vogue, people seemed to stop being offended by “hey” because they knew if they were, they’d be even more offended by being called a jackass.


Revenge of the Hey-Haters

Perhaps the word “hey” just became more commonplace overtime (See the chart below), so now you don’t hear many people complaining about it. However, those people that are complaining about it are now adding the retort to the original complaint:


So now the hey-haters are the offensive ones and no one’s come up with a suitable comeback to the original comeback. These newfangled hey-haters are the real assholes. They are just out to offend anyway they can. To continue from the sentences above, I bet this is how they respond all day long to family, friends and coworkers:

You: Have you read that book?
Them: Red is a color, aren’t you glad you’re colorblind!
You: Did you see that movie?
Them: The sea is a body of water, now go drown yourself!
You: When is this due?
Them: Do is a verb, now do me a favor and shut the fuck up!

Hey Now

Here’s something interesting, “hey” is actually more common than “hay”, according to Google Trends. Take that donkey breath:


Why do we even have homonyms

Another perplexing question is: Why do we even have homonyms? Were early grammarians just messing with us? Were they lazy? The spellings of some similar sounding words were changed when used as different parts of speech (Like with hay and hey). For example, “The sky is blue” and “Little Boy blew the trumpet”. Why weren’t the spellings of all similar sounding words changed? And do similar sounding words affect our understanding of the spoken word? Presumably, we can guess the meaning of the spoken word by the context of the sentence, sometimes. I say sometimes because these words probably cause the biggest confusion in our language, especially to these hey-haters. When we say, “Hey,” perhaps they are imagining a huge pile of hay and are worried about running into it or perhaps start salivating and want to eat it?

It’s actually easy to see why people learning English get confused with similar sounding words, just look at the examples below. Imagine trying to learn English when you are confronted with these (Note: The technical term for these words is initial-stress derivation, incase you were curious)!

• Did you produce that fresh produce?
• Please record that record.
• Present that present to me.
• Are you content with the contents of this book?
• She deserted me in the desert while eating dessert!

Same spelling, but the stress is different so it’s pronounced slightly differently (homographs). On the flip side, having words that sound the same, but are spelled differently (homophones) is very helpful to both non-native and native speakers alike. However, if you are a native speaker of English, you should not be too confused by these sentences (Although, you should be extremely confused by the buffalo example below). Additionally, at least “hay” and “hey” are spelled differently to avoid confusion when reading the two. But again, when spoken, native English speakers can understand the difference between the two by the context of the sentence, right?

The Chart of Homonymic Resonance

At this point you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a second, what’s the difference between a homophone and a homograph and a homonym?” Exactly! That was the question that was bugging me and getting to the answer was actually challenging and it’s the rabbit hole I referred to earlier.

Let’s see if we can figure it out. First, let’s look at the Greek meanings of these words to get to the bottom of this barrel:

• Graph: writing
• Hetero: different
• Homo: same
• Nym: name
• Phone: sound

Now let’s look at this homonym chart:


As you can see, homonyms appear in multiple categories, which is confusing as hell, and that chart alone is confusing as hell! According to the chart, “hay” and “hey” would actually be heterographic homophones, I think. But who knows, that chart is harder to figure out than Egyptian hieroglyphs! I mean, how can you have a chart about words that sound alike and look alike and have one word used multiple times to explain multiple categories of similar words! Does that make any fucking sense? Furthermore, you’ve got heteronyms and heterographs, but no heterophones? Why not? And what is a heterophone? It sounds like a straight dude that likes to use his phone a lot for sexual gratification, but that’s just a stab in the dark.

Guess what, there are more terms that aren’t listed on the chart. We’ve got capitonyms, which are words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but have a different meaning when they are capitalized (March vs march). And let’s not forget polysemes, which have the same spelling and pronunciation, but slightly different meanings (The mouth on your face, and the mouth of a river). And finally, who could ever forget oronyms, which are phrases that sound alike (Uranus vs. your anus), but I digest (see what I did there).

Look, let’s just keep it stupidly simple: All these words should be called homonyms. You can further classify them as you like, but the general term should be: homonyms!

Buffalos x7


Having said that, I can’t avoid the elephant in the room or dare I say, “Buffalo?” Yes, here’s a noodle knocker for ya: Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo. Apparently that is an actual grammatically correct sentence. Realizing this is like that time in the Matrix when the cat was shown twice: There’s a glitch in the system if this fucking sentence of seven buffalos strung willy-nilly is grammatically correct!

I’m sure other languages have similar glitches. I know Chinese, for example, has a poem with the word shi pronounced numerous times using different tones and different characters. They are all pronounced using variants of shiLion Eating Poet in the Stone Den. By the way, if anyone ever asks you if you can speak Chinese, just say, “shi” (which can actually mean “yes” in Chinese), then say, “shi” about thirty times in a row (Hint: It sounds like “shhh” in English).

However, buffalo is spelled and pronounced the same exact way seven times in that crazy sentence. Listen, English words should be spelled differently when they are used as different parts of speech to avoid confusion. For example, “He buried the berry next to Barry.” Or “The witch didn’t know which wich to eat.” Or “In lieu of using the loo, Lou used Barry’s leg.”

Why do we change the spelling of some similar sounding words, but not all of them? I don’t know, but using different spellings of buffalo would help readers understand the meaning of that crazy sentence a bit, ya think? Furthermore, what if the English language suddenly had more homonyms, or whatever they are called, and fewer words. And what if we suddenly started speaking like the buffalo sentence to each other:

Joe1: Yo yo yo yo yo yo YO!
Joe2: Watup watup watup watup watup watup watup!
Joe1: Screaming hairy armadillo armadillo armadillo armadillo armadillo armadillo armadillo!
Joe2: Dawg dawg dawg dawg dawg dawg dawg!
Joe1: Spiny lumpsucker lumpsucker lumpsucker lumpsucker lumpsucker lumpsucker lumpsucker!
Joe2: Dude dude dude dude dude dude DUDE!
Joe1: Satanic leaf-tailed gecko gecko gecko gecko gecko gecko gecko!
Joe2: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck double fuck!!!

Talking like that to people would be horrible, but it doesn’t seem to bother rappers.


A Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko

Misspellings (Why is that word so hard to spell?)

Moving on and back to the gist. Maybe the reason why so many native-English speakers are such bad spellers is because our language has so many different spellings for similar words that are used as different parts of speech; however, the English language is not consistent when it comes to changing the spelling of words that sound alike. There seems to be no rule or noticeable pattern as to why some words that sound alike have a variety of different spellings, while others do not.

Here’s a list of commonly misspelled homophones. I wonder if the majority of misspelled words in the English language are actually homophones? I for one frequently struggle spelling these words.

On a personal note, I once wrote an email to a sales person and asked him to “wave” the extra fees associated with his service. He wrote me back and said he would not “waive” the fees, but he would “wave” me good-bye. Which was funny and taught me how to spell “waive”, but I’m waving him the finger right now, the fucking douche! (Not because he taught me how to spell “waive”, but because he didn’t waive the extraordinarily large fees). Getting to the bottom of it: Why do we even have words that sound the same and are spelled differently? And vice versa? Shouldn’t we spell all words that sound the same the same, or spell them all differently to be consistent for fuck’s sake! OK, OK, enough ranting.

Back on Track

I lost my train, where was I? Oh yeah, hay and hey.

Anyhoo, this gets me back to the original problem with “hey”. These hey-haters stole our comeback. I tried to find the person who invented the “aren’t-you-glad-you’re-a-jackass” comeback to ask them for another great comeback, but I’m getting like 11 results for “aren’t you glad you’re a jackass” on Google (It initially says 800+ results, but by the second page, almost all the results have vanished — that doesn’t seem very accurate). Come on Google!


We really need to know who this person was who invented this amazing comeback: Aren’t you glad you’re a jackass! He or she is probably turning over in their grave right now at how their catchphrase has been abused. So let’s stand up to the plate. We need some mighty retort that will shut these grammatical idiots up, these hey-haters, and put them in their place for good.

Mama Said Knock You Out

Why do we need a new comeback? Well firstly, “hey” is a common term and these hey-hating fucks don’t seem to get it. Secondly, they stole the original comeback and now think they are being clever, when in actuality, they are plain rude as fuck. Imagine saying “Hi” to someone and they say, “Fuck you, I’m not high!” Come on, these assholes have to be stopped in their tracks! We need a solid comeback that will shut them up and get them to stop being rude fuckwits. Something like:


That’s all I got at the moment: Fuck off you fuck-fisting fucknut, you’re fucked and far from home! If you’ve got something better, please comment.

And finally, if you’ve made it all the way through this marathon post, I salute you!

The End

Previously on Groovatti

Thank you for reading “Hey is Not for Horses”!

Check out some of my other stories:

Hillel Groovatti is the author of the short fiction collection entitled Totally Losing Face and Other Stories.

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