from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • interjection Used to attract attention or to express surprise, appreciation, wonder, or pleasure.
  • interjection Used to express greeting.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • An exclamation expressing pleasure, surprise, etc.: also used as a call to attract attention and as an interrogative.
  • noun An obsolete or rare form of hay.
  • noun An obsolete form of hie.
  • An obsolete form of high.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • interjection An exclamation of joy, surprise, or encouragement.
  • interjection A cry to set dogs on.
  • adjective obsolete High.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • interjection An exclamation to get attention.
  • interjection A protest or reprimand.
  • interjection An expression of surprise.
  • interjection An informal greeting, similar to hi (used in the US, Australia and Canada).
  • interjection A request for repetition or explanation; an expression of confusion (see also eh, huh).
  • interjection A meaningless beat marker or extra, filler syllable in musical lyrics.
  • noun country dancing A choreographic figure in which the dancers weave between one another.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English hei.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English hey, hei, also without h- in ey, from Old English *hē, ēa (interjection), attested as first element in Old English hēlā, ēalā ("O!, alas!, oh!, lo!"). Cognate with Dutch he, hei ("hi, hey"), German hei ("hey, wow"), Danish and Swedish hej ("hello, hey"), Faroese hey ("hey, hello"), Icelandic hei ("hey"), see heigh. Probably a natural expression, as may be inferred from its presence with similar meaning in many other unrelated languages: for example, Burmese ဟေး (hei), Finnish hei, Unami hè, and Mandarin Chinese  (āi), and various sound-alikes as Roman eho, Greek εἴα (eia), Latin eia. See also hello.


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  • The American Heritage Dictionary has a "Regional Note" which tells us the following:

    "Traditionally, hey was just an exclamation. Sometimes it expressed delight, sometimes a warning. Nowadays we find it used for emphasis as well, especially in the expression but hey. It is also a greeting. It is a short, colloquial version of How are you? and thus close kin to the informal salutation hi, which it seems to be replacing in many situations. Until recently, this greeting had a distinctly Southern flavor. The national survey conducted in the 1960s by the Dictionary of American Regional English found hey as a greeting restricted chiefly to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The friendly hey has since spread throughout the United States."

    August 2, 2010

  • Hey, I didn't know it was chiefly southern.

    August 4, 2010

  • Hey, yeah--I know. I use it mostly when I want to acknowledge someone I know, but don't have time to stop and chat.

    November 13, 2010

  • Hey--check out the tags.

    June 16, 2011

  • aye that is cool

    May 2, 2019