More “How are you?”

Following up on my posting on “How are you?” (and the answer “(I’m) fine”): mail to the NYT. A response much like mine, but more detailed, from linguist Deborah Tannen, and another peeve about conventional idioms of social life.

From Tannen:

Re “The ‘How Are You?’ Culture Clash” (Op-Ed, Jan. 20):

Alina Simone illustrates a universal of cross-cultural communication: the tendency to take literally expressions that members of another culture use idiomatically. Greetings are prime examples because they are among the most ritualized expressions in any culture.

… What’s sad is how ready we all are to draw negative conclusions about members of a different culture because they so clearly don’t mean what they say, even as we ourselves are blithely using idioms and formulaic expressions without giving a thought to what a literal interpretation of their meaning would imply — or would lead outsiders to think about us.

In my earlier piece, I listed several formulaic social idioms that people object to because they’re (perceived to be) new. Another letter to the NYT adds one more:

Alina Simone’s excellent and amusing parsing of the common greeting and automatic response “fine” leads to a pet peeve: the standard departing shot “have a nice day.” In the last decade or so, this substitute for “goodbye” has been ratcheted up.

I am now, more often than not, implored to have a “great” day, or on the occasion when I am bid adieu by some teenage retail clerk, I am often imposed upon to have a “totally awesome” day.

John Carbone
, Louisville, Ky., Jan. 20, 2014

I doubt that “Have a nice day” is as recent as Carbone thinks, though it certainly has spread.

(All this makes me wonder how long “See ya” and “Later” as colloquial substitutes for “Goodbye:” have been around.)

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