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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Five, in which All are warmly greeted

Your Bibliothecary subscribes to several lists. Arose the discussion on one about "Hey" as a greeting. One person, who we will call Reginald, wrote, "Every time I get one [an email that begins with hey] I feel the hackles rise up and get poised for a fight." We couldn't help but wonder: why?

The American Heritage Dictionary cites "Hey" as a greeting that is slowly replacing "Hi." But email is a notoriously confusing form of communication, and what a sender writes as "HEY Reginald" (emphasis on the first word) is easily misread by a recipient as "Hey REGINALD" (emphasis on the second word), giving the email an entirely different tone.

What strikes us as dubious is the offense taken by use of the word. What ever happened, Reginald wonders, to the polite greeting "Hi?" (Wikipedia notes "Hey" was actually used as early as 1225, whereas "Hi" came into the language only in the 1920s.) Well, we are prone to believe that fifty years ago Reginald's grandfather was complaining that "Hi" was offensive to him, and bemoaning the disuse of the more polite greeting "Hello." And fifty years before that, his grandfather's grandfather was upset that people on the street said "Hello" instead of "Good day." Of course, there must also have been a time when the vulgar "Good day" had replaced the polite and respectful greeting of a bow and "My Lord."

The same can be said of modern parting words, such as "Bye," shortened (because we don't have as much time as our forebears) from "Goodbye," a contractional form of "God be with you."

Dear Readers, should one use formal salutations in all communication? Is an informal greeting such as "Yo!" acceptable between friends? Is the development of greetings through history a symptom of the disintegration of society, or is it a function of a rapidly changing, adaptable culture?

Good Morning, Reginald.
Fare Thee Well.


  1. One hopes this is all cylical, and after "Hey!" becomes "H!" and then "H!" becomes an affectionate silence - then we will be on our way back to the bow and "My Lord."

  2. I use hey as a greeting among friends but generally not in writing. But then I also greet friends with hi, hola, and howdy. To me it all depends on the context.

  3. I always like to begin with Hello. I think that written and verbal communication are entirely different. As a writer and lover of all things writerly related (that means books!), I hate the idea of a society that is losing the ability to communicate properly in writing. In every language, it is the case. Yet many other societies have managed to retain a bit more formality in their written word, rather than spoken.

    Has email ruined us all? I'm not sure. But I bet there is a direct correlation between the loss of formal greeting and the increase in human communication. Can we really say that more interaction (albeit hastily typed) is a bad thing if it means we drop a few L's, O's and E's?

  4. I live in North Carolina so I say and hear "hey" all the time. I try to avoid it in writing, though, unless I'm trying to sound Southern.