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December 6, 1998 - Slangman: Greetings - 2002-02-11

INTRO: "Huh-LOW" ["hello" with a lyrical emphasis on "low"] -- are you up on the latest American greetings? Find out, as we welcome our Wordmasters, Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Hello"/The Doors

AA: Let's translate that '60s hit by The Doors into modern slang: "Yo, how ya doin', what's your name?" My name is Avi Arditti.

RS: And I'm Rosanne Skirble. As Americans prepare for holiday reunions, or flock to stores to buy gifts, how are they greeting each other, besides a simple "hi."

For help we asked our Slangman, David Bburke, author of the "Street Talk" series and other books on slang.

AA: David filled us in on "what's up" -- meaning "what's new," in American greetings:


"The trend in slang has always been shorten, shorten, shorten! And the original expression was, 'what's up.' Now that expression is of course very confusing to non-native speakers because they take that literally." And, 'what's up' means literally what is up over your head. So, 'what's up' was the original expression.

Then it was shortened, and a lot of teens are simply saying, 'what up.' Now 'sup' is really a term from rap (music) and a lot of teens are still saying 'what up.' And some are saying 'sup' just to be super cool. "

RS: So how do you reply if someone greets you with "sup"?

AA: 'Sup, Rosie?

RS: Nada, just chillin', Av-man. Nada, as in "not a thing."

But nada also means "nothing" in Spanish, and a lot of young people use Spanish terms to spice up their English. Chillin' is a clipped form of "chilling. " In slang "to chill" means "to relax."

AA: OK, another question for David Burke: You're walking down the street, you pass a casual acquaintance, what do you say.


DAVID BURKE: "Often times you will see two people cross each other (walk by one another) and one person will say, 'how ya doin'.' (how are you doing. ) And they will answer with 'how ya doin'.' So, it's almost become an expression of greeting. And actually, in a situation that is really super casual like maybe you are buying some groceries and the checker (cashier) says, 'how ya doin'.' I think the checker would be very surprised if you actually said, 'Well, I went to the doctor yesterday, and I had this sore on my arm, and I got it ... ' I think they would be actually surprised. So, 'how ya doin' has really become more of a greeting."

RS: "You know David, what has been really interesting to me has been to follow the word 'hello.' And today we hear the word, and we don't just say 'hello' (normal intonation) but we inject it with 'huh-LOW.' (as if to say) 'wake up!'

DAVID BURKE: "Yeah, hello is wonderful! That one is 'huh-LOW' -- is anybody in there? In other words, anybody inside your head? Is there a brain inside of there?"

RS: Why, yes there is, thank you! Anyway, once you've said "hello" -- or "huh-LOW" -- and now you want to say goodbye, what are your slang options.


DAVID BURKE: "'See you later' was the original way to say goodbye. There's nothing idiomatic about it. There's nothing strange. It's simply a straight forward sentence. But again the trend in slang, shorten! so teens were saying, 'later' and then they started saying 'late.'"

AA: Lately, we've been curious what store clerks are saying to greet shoppers this holiday season, to recognize America's increasing diversity.

RS: After all, this month we also have the Jewish holiday of Chanukkah, the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa, and the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. So we asked David Burke what's in store for shoppers this year in the way of greetings.


"Interestingly enough, we are hearing usually, 'merry Christmas.' But then they catch themselves (from saying that). Let's face it, we see more Christmas trees than we do any other kind of decorations all over the United States. So, it isn't politically correct of course to say 'merry Christmas,' but I guess the store clerks and those who deal with the public are being told make sure that you are politically correct. But that's a hard habit to break when you've been raised saying 'merry Christmas.'"

AA: Of course, a simple "happy holidays" will usually do just fine.

RS: We'll say "hi" or "hey" or "hello" to David Burke again next month. In the meantime you can visit his web site -- the address is w-w-w dot slangman dot com.

AA: Rosanne and I will be back next week.

RS: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble. Later ...

MUSIC -- "Hello Goodbye"/Beatles