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The phrase tally-ho is a largely British phrase, which originated from the activity of foxhunting, and other forms of hunting with hounds, shouted when a rider or follower sees the fox. Today the term has evolved to have other meanings, most of which relate to 'pointing out' or 'spotting' a 'target'. For example, it is sometimes used as slang in air traffic control to verify a radar contact has been visually confirmed.[1]


Tally-ho dates from around 1772, and is probably derived from the French taïaut, a cry used to excite hounds when hunting deer.[2] According to other sources, the phrase may have originated from the second half of the 13th century, from the concatenation of a two word war cry: taille haut; "taille" being the cutting edge of the sword and "haut" translating to high (or 'raised up'), thus the original meaning of this interjection is something close to "Swords up!".[3]

Other uses[edit]

Air forces[edit]

This expression became commonly used during the Second World War by English-speaking fighter pilots to say that an enemy aircraft has been sighted. It is still used today for this purpose, and also applies to sighting ground targets, though it is generally shortened to "Tally".

Tally-ho is the squadron motto of 609 (West Riding) Squadron, a famous British World War II fighter squadron. 609 (WR) Sqn RAuxAF still exists today, having been reformed in 1998 at Royal Air Force Station Leeming in North Yorkshire, England, UK.[4]

Air traffic control[edit]

This phrase has since been used by civilian pilots in response to traffic advisories provided by air traffic controllers (ATC). The pilot's response "Tally" or "Tally-ho" tells air traffic controllers that the pilot has seen the air traffic in question. For example:

ATC: Aircraft Call Sign / ID, "Airport Name, Tower, traffic at two o'clock, seven miles, a Boeing 737, west-bound, at 4000 feet."
Pilot: Aircraft Call Sign / ID, Tally-ho."

This phrase is not in the official FAA Pilot-Controller Glossary. The proper response to a traffic call issued by ATC is "traffic in sight" or "negative contact" which means previously issued traffic is not in sight.[5]


A four-in-hand coach, named the Tally-ho, was a coach that once plied between London and Birmingham.[2]


Tally-Ho is a brand of self-rolled cigarette papers available in Australia.

Tally-Ho is also a brand of poker-sized playing cards manufactured by the US Playing Card Company.


Tally-ho is also a term NASA astronauts use in audio transmissions to signify sightings of other spacecraft, space stations, and unidentified objects.[6]

Entertainment industry[edit]


Pub rock is usually traced back to the Tally Ho, a former jazz pub in Kentish Town, London where Eggs over Easy started playing in May 1971, and were soon joined by Bees Make Honey, Brinsley Schwarz, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Ducks Deluxe and others.[7]

  • Tally Ho is the title of the 1981 hit single by New Zealand lo-fi rock band The Clean.
  • Tally Ho (タリホー Tari Hō) is also the title of the hit single by Japanese rock band The Cro-Magnons (ザ・クロマニヨンズ Za Kuromaniyonzu) from their self-titled debut album.
  • Wagon Christ's 1998 album is titled Tally Ho!.
  • Tally Ho is the refrain of a very popular Hindi song Baar Baar Dekho from the film China Town (1962).
  • "Tally Ho !" is the title of a comic song recorded by comedian Jerry Colonna on Vocalion 78 on May 12, 1939 (Voc 4872)[8]

Films and television[edit]

The American film director Sam Raimi had heroes yell "Tally-ho!" before jumping in two films: Army of Darkness and Spider-Man.

In The Great Escape, "tally-ho" is the code word which Hendley (the Scrounger) used to warn the other escapees travelling in the same train as him, that the police and the Gestapo are also onboard and checking passengers' identity papers.

In the NCIS 'Blowback' episode, Ducky (David McCallum) murmurs the phrase "Tally ho!" as he prepares to go undercover as an English arms dealer. David McCallum once played a British prisoner of war in The Great Escape (1963) who was warned during his escape to keep his cover when James Garner's character whispered "Tally ho!" to him.

In the 4th-season episode of Star Trek: Voyager - "The Killing Game, Part II" - The Doctor responds to Klingons in a simulation with the "Tally-ho" phrase after a Klingon and Neelix shout Qapla'.

In the Star Trek: The Original Series season 1, episode 17 "The Squire of Gothos", the phrase is used by Trelane upon first contacting the Enterprise crew.

In the movie Top Gun, upon spotting enemy aircraft, Maverick (Tom Cruise) says, "Ho, I see 'em. Tally-ho. Right two o'clock. I'm in."[9]

The PBS Kids show Nature Cat has the titular character using this catchphrase.

In the 1996 movie Matilda, principal Trunchbull shouts it when jumping down a staircase hunting the intruders in her house.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Oxford Dictionary - Tally-ho". Oxford Dictionary. Referenced May 19, 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Merriam-Webster Dictionary - Tallyho". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Referenced May 19, 2008.
  3. ^ "Taïaut", Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales (in French)
  4. ^ Luke, John. "609 (West Riding) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force". Military Airshows in the UK. Referenced May 19, 2008.
  5. ^ Federal Aviation Administration: Pilot/Controller Glossary (P/CG), T (Traffic)
  6. ^ Harwood, William (2002-06-07). "Endeavour arrives at the International Space Station". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  7. ^ Birch, Will (2003). No Sleep Till Canvey Island – The Great Pub Rock Revolution (1st ed.). London: Virgin Books Ltd. pp. 120–129. ISBN 0-7535-0740-4. 
  8. ^ Brian Rust: The Complete Entertainment Discography 1897-1942 2nd Ed
  9. ^ "Sound clips from Top Gun (1986)". Movie-Sounds.org. Retrieved 25 September 2014.