A growing number of people on social media inexplicably don’t seem to know the difference between aye or hey.
I have to give you two word pictures to explain this apparently new confusion over whether to use aye or hey.
In print, I realize that they might look like they’d rhyme. If they did rhyme, they’d be homophones. Homophones are words you pronounce the same way but spell differently. On top of that, homophones have different meanings, depending on the spelling.
But when you try to choose between aye or hey, the first thing to know is that the two words are not homophones.
Let’s move on to those word pictures I mentioned.
The first dates back to the pirate era. The second is much more recent by comparison. It dates back to the 1970s when a popular sitcom shot to fame.
Let’s think of that pirate ship proudly flying its Jolly Roger. The captain of the ship, complete with a black patch over one eye and a bicorn hat, shouts out orders.
Think for a minute. Imagine the scene. What are his loyal men going to say in response?
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
The word aye is pronounced like eye. In fact, aye and eye are homophones. You pronounce them the same way but spell them differently and they have different meanings.
The second word picture takes us to the series Happy Days. Remember Henry Winkler’s character of “The Fonz”? Imagine him walking into Arnold’s and using his fist to tap the jukebox just right so that it plays for free. What does he say when he turns to his adoring audience and flashes that thumbs up?
“Heyyyyyyyyyy.” Yes, it’s a very elongated hey, but it’s “hey” nonetheless. A fan-made YouTube video titles it “Aaayyy.” But if you can’t quite remember, here’s a review:
Hey and hay are also homophones. Some people drop the leading H sound, pronouncing more of a “eyyyyyy” sound.
So why do people get confused over aye or hey?
If they’re trying to mimic the Fonz’s elongated hey, they may be going for a phonetic spelling. In that case, they’d want to go with something more like, “Ayyyy.” That might make it at least a little more clear.
But once they add that E at the end, they’ve changed the word. It’s no longer pronounced like hay, which is the dry grass horses and cows eat. That E turns the hay sound into an eye sound.
It’s hey, not aye.
Apparently, for the cool kids out there, that “Aaayyy” sound means something along the lines of either a greeting or “Check me out.”
Don’t ask me why.
I never claimed to be one of the cool kids out there.