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  • A brief rumination about pleasantries:

    I often greet people with "Hi there!", and recently I started wondering why I do this. The word "there" seems to be utterly meaningless in this context, and if it's meaningless, why do I bother to say it? Why not just say "Hi!", and thereby save some time and some breath?

    One piece of the answer, I think, is that "hi there!" is an accepted English idiom -- but this only explains why I'm able to use the phrase. It doesn't explain why I choose to use the phrase.

    I think the other piece of the answer is that the most important part of my salutation is not the denotation of the words, but rather the tone of voice in which I say them. If I'm greeting you, I want you to know that I'm happy to see you, and the best way for me to do that is to speak in a cheerful tone. Now, if I only speak one syllable ("Hi!"), it might be hard for you to properly read my tone. By doubling the number of syllables, I'm doubling the time you have in which to correctly read my tone, and thereby interpret that I'm happy to see you.

    If I'm right, this might also explain other pleasantries. Consider this scripted exchange:

    A: Hi there! How are you doing?

    B: Pretty good, thanks. How are you doing?

    A: I'm doing well, thanks.

    When two people engage in this particular exchange, they're not really asking each other how they're doing. You know this implicitly, and so you know not to answer the question "How are you doing?" by describing your woes to the other person. You're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to reply with the next line in the script.

    My idea is that the point of this whole exercise is to give the people plenty of syllables to speak, so they can pronounce these syllables in a certain tone of voice and thereby communicate the actual message.

    The actual message? In most cases, I think it's something like this:

    "I am a human being. I see you and recognize you as a fellow human being, and I welcome you."

    When you think about it that way, it makes those boring pleasantries seem rather heartwarming...

    November 13, 2010

  • high and lo there and all that is being be-tween!

    November 13, 2010

  • "Hi there" always reminds me of the very beginning of Peter Gabriel's song "Big Time." When I was searching for that song with the needle of my record player, those were the words that let me know I'd found the right spot.

    Man, I'm old.

    I don't usually say "hi there," but I do always greet passersby when I'm on my way to work--it's amusing to watch morning people announce themselves to the world: "Morning." "Morning." I'm not really a morning person, but now that I know the code, I can experiment a bit. The morning people respond to both "Morning" and "Good Morning" with their own "Morning." The non-morning people tend to respond with a quick "Hi" or just a tired nod. Of course, I still find myself uttering a surprised "hey" now and then--mostly when I see someone I've encountered before, or someone I know on a first-name basis.

    There are some comments over on good, as well.

    November 13, 2010

  • I was quite amused to discover, during the very first days of my summer in Peru, the habit of greeting taxi drivers and other informal acquaintances with the mere word "buenas", an abbreviation of the formula for either good morning, afternoon, or night. It struck me as odd at first, because it's just a trailing adjective stuck to nothing -- but then I realised it was no more peculiar than the emphatic declaration of "morning" -- as if you were pointing out such a state to the unobservant, or hortatorily imploring its prolongation.

    November 14, 2010

  • It's the same in Mexico--though I also say "Adiós" as a greeting to older women who are out sweeping their yards as I pass by in the morning (they say it back).

    November 14, 2010

  • Perhaps it doesn't even matter what words you use to greet someone. Perhaps the only thing that matters is your tone of voice.

    I could easily test this. If I greeted you with a smile and a cheerful "Artichoke!", spoken in the friendliest of tones, how would you respond?

    November 15, 2010

  • Why did you come up with "artichoke"? Are you stalking me on Shuttercal?

    November 15, 2010

  • 'I think the other piece of the answer is that the most important part of my salutation is not the denotation of the words, but rather the tone of voice in which I say them.'

    I think this is a very accurate observation. Sometimes when I've said 'hi' on it's own people think I'm being cold or dismissing their greeting. It's much easier to say 'hi there' or some other, slightly longer greeting to sound warm. I've always found 'hi' unbalanced and difficult to say with a grin on your face.

    As for the use of artichoke as a greeting, I'd probably cry indignantly, "What did you call me?!" then promptly call you an avocado.

    November 15, 2010

  • Brazilians will often say "oi oi" - and in fact it's not so very different in parts of the UK, where a knowing "aye aye" is a common greeting. It's all about the intonation. It's why I prefer hello to hi - or sometimes I will indeed deploy morning, although I wouldn't call myself a morning person, because in my experience "morning people" tend to be punchably cheery and optimistic.

    November 15, 2010

  • Thanks, yarb. That reminds me that sometimes my Latvian neighbors will greet me in English by saying "Hi, hi."

    November 15, 2010