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Posted by ESC on March 26, 2009 at 13:11

In Reply to: Greetings posted by Gary Martin on March 26, 2009 at 10:12:

: I'm researching the origin of various greetings for an upcoming BBC Radio 4 programme on linguistics. Any input on regional/national specific greetings would be welcome. For instance, is the US 'howdy' just a national variant of 'how do you do?', as it appears to be? If so, when did it begin to be used in the US? Any other US greetings that have parallels/origins in the UK would be useful too.

: Why is 'wotcha', which was used in mediaeval England as 'what cheer?', now primarily a southern UK/London expression? Likewise, why is 'tarrar' which, as Victoria has suggested, is probably a version of 'ta-ta', primarily northern?

"Hello, howdy, hi, or words to that effect, are used by most of us several times a day. 'How do you do?' (literally 'how is your health?'), 'good morning,' 'good afternoon,' and 'good evening' have been English greetings since the mid 15th century. Howdy, a contraction of 'how do you do?' is an Americanism popular since the 1840s. Although we consider 'Howdy, stranger' a western greeting, 'howdy' was originally very southern and was taken west by Civil War veterans. Surprisingly enough, 'hello' didn't become a truly common greeting until the mid 1860s. It comes from 'holla!', stop! (French ho! + la, there); it had been used as a shout to attract attention, hail a coach, ferry, etc. 'Hi' is just a variant of 'hey!'; it had been used as a shout to attract attention for over 500 years before we began using it as a greeting in the 1880s. 'What's up?' dates from the 1880s, too. 'What's new?' and 'What's with you?' have strong New York backgrounds, perhaps being translations of the German immigrants' 'was is los?' 'What do you know?', 'What do you say?' ('whata-ya know?' 'whata-ya say?), How's tricks? date from the mid 1920s, while 'Long time, Joe' whata-ya know?' were jive terms of the late 1930s. The shorter 'What's cooking?' dates from the 1940s." Page 184. From I Hear America Talking, by Stuart Berg Flexner, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976.

Greetings used by the young fall into two categories, according to a youth slang reference. Those are the simple exclamation, for example: Yo! - "a traditional greeting among Italian-Americans in south Philadelphia that was made famous by Sylvester Stallone in the movie 'Rocky' and then embraced by the language of the hip-hop culture." And the question, like variations on "the ever-popular What's happening? (Beat Counterculture of the 1950s) " Then there's "What it is?" "What's shakin'?" "Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang" by Tom Dalzell (Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Md., 1996). Page 185.
Mr. Dalzell has a long list of "What's happening?" variations. Let me know if you want those.

Wassup, whassup - exclamation meaning "What's up?" "Whassup, dawg?" Topcat, Sept. 1993/issue 48, page 66. From "A 2 Z: The Book of Rap & Hip-Hop Slang" by Lois Stavsky, I.E. Mozeson, and Dani Reyes Mozeson, (Boulevard books, New York, 1995). Page 111.

Sup? What up? What it B like? (origin: greeting between members of the Bloods, an L.A. gang) and What it C like? (greeting to nonmembers). From "Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner" by Geneva Smitherman (Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, N.Y., 1994). Page 235.

Hel-LO? - "typically pronounced with strong stress and falling intonation on ultimate syllable/ interj. (used to call attention to the foolishness of an idea, comment, etc.) 1985 Gale & Zemeckis 'Back to the Future' (film): 'Hello? McFly?'." From "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1 H-O" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.