Origin of the Word Hoe As It Refers To...

***Important Hoe Information***

Alert reader and friend Mary Ann, the Idaho Gardener, recently sent me some extremely helpful information on the origin of the use of the word “hoe” in reference to women.

I know many people, both gardeners and non-gardeners, have a certain image of women in mind when I discuss hoes, but I have always claimed ignorance that the word “hoe” could refer to anything other than a garden tool used for digging, scratching, and well, “hoeing” in the dirt.

But not any more! Now I have a brand new image for hoes.

Mary Ann’s book club is reading the book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gorden-Reed and came across this quote:

“...In other words, black women who were out of slavery were treated like white men instead of like white women. As the years passed, the connection between black women and hard physical labor became so firmly entrenched in the minds of white masters that the women "were as one with their farming tools and called, simply, hoes."

The quote is footnoted and credited to the book Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia by Kathleen M. Brown.

I’m glad that’s all cleared up and am grateful that Mary Ann sent this to me! Thanks, Mary Ann!


  1. Hi Carol, that is indeed good information. Let us tell Snoop Doggy Dogg about that meaning, for I believe he and others have taken the word from someplace else. But I could be mistaken. They need to be informed of the correct history of the word, and correct any misconceptions among their fans. I suggest you send him an email.

  2. Please add a smiley face to the above comment. It was accidently left out. :-)

  3. Without a doubt, that is the most interesting/amazing/historic/quirky bit of information that I learned this week. (It may prove be the most interesting bit this whole year). Thanks for passing it on.

    And what a laugh, that the rappers are saying something entirely different than they intended but only a few of us are in on the joke!

  4. Very interesting, Carol, and thanks for this information! I always enjoy learning some new facts about word origins. I remember many years ago reading Romeo and Juliet with my freshman classes when they started snickering at the line, "What, ho!" It takes awhile for adults to learn the latest teenage slang, so I had no idea what they were giggling about. If I were still teaching, I might invite you in as a guest speaker, Carol, to explain the origin of this term. You could even bring your hoe collection!:)

  5. Wow, that's great. Maybe you chould change you tweet to Indyhoe or just the Garden Hoe

  6. What a rehabilitation of the word "hoe," I love it! Of course, like Rose, I'm also a fan of etymology and the various connotations of words. Words have such power, for good or ill. I'm glad your beloved hoes can hold their metaphorical heads a little higher today.

  7. OK, this has me wondering how the tool came to be named a hoe? According to Webster's: Middle English howe, from Middle French houe, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German houwa mattock, houwan to hew.

    This would be a great trivia question for a Spring Fling icebreaker, wouldn't it?

  8. Well, at least the (bad) word has something to do with working outside in a garden! Now I won't feel so insulted when I hear it.

  9. As you know Dear Indy, I was just aiming to provide you with all the good information I came across. Like the other commenters, I was glad to know hoe means hoe, the tool, not something else. Now would be a good time to proclaim: Free at Last!

  10. Very interesting.~~Dee

  11. I haven't ever heard this before. A good thing to know.

  12. While I'm glad to be enlightened, it still sounds demeaning to reduce women to their agricultural function. They weren't even called hoe-ers, but hoes.

  13. I just started reading that book. Looks like it will be very interesting indeed.

  14. Interesting...I always thought ho was a sound-shifted homonym for whore.

    Well, I've been a hoe today, that's for sure, struggling to dig up the nandina.

    On the male side, we think of workers as hired hands (or to be more Latinate) manual workers...as opposed to individual people--not exactly the sum of their parts, just the part the boss or master values.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this important insight into history and language.


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