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Thursday, February 10, 2011

“Hey” is the New “Hi”

Photo: bark

Remember when every phone conversation started that way – before caller ID? You could tell a lot in that hello.

If the hello was a question, the person was open to the idea of having a conversation. If the hello was more of a statement, the person was probably busy or not really in the mood to talk. If the tone in the first syllable of the word started at the person’s normal speaking voice and then trailed downward for the second syllable, he or she was probably bummed out about something.

Then came caller ID and salutations changed. “Hello?” was replaced with “Hey Joe, what’s going on?” That progressed to “What up dog?” It seems like we’re beyond the novelty of caller ID now and have returned to less informal salutations. Even when I know who is calling, I generally fall back on the tried and true, “Hello?”

When I meet someone in person, my salutation is more casual though. I say “hey.” I don’t know where I picked that up, but I hear others using it too. I didn’t realize it might be a generational thing though until my mom asked me recently why people say “hey” to each other now instead of “hi.” I had no idea. So, what do you think I did?

Google pointed me toward a blog called Pain in the English where people had a conversation about the topic in the comments section of a post called The use of “hey” in place of “hello.” One person said “hello” is too formal and comes across as snobby so “hey” works better. A couple of people said “hey” is used to flirt. A mother-in-law confesses to being offended every time her daughter-in-law greeted her with “hey” instead of “hi,” but the post helped her realize that “hey” was the new “hi.”

Apparently I’m not the only one who reads a lot into salutations. But, as that mother-in-law discovered, we need to be careful when playing psychologist. All of us communicate via body language and tone inflection, and we draw our own conclusions about people as a result, but I’m thinking it might be better if we simply asked each other if something is wrong when we think we hear pain or sadness or discomfort in a salutation rather than misdiagnosing someone.

What are your thoughts about salutations – the way they have changed and the way we read into them?


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