Hey! The new Hi ?
When you first arrived in the United States to study English abroad, did you find yourself waiting for what was going to follow the first time you heard the word “Hey!” ?
And you thought that was a call for attention until the person walked straight past you without another word? Because in fact it was not that kind of “hey!” – it just meant “hi.”
Why we like Hey as a form of greeting
You would have got used to it now and probably use it to greet people yourself. Hey for Hi is nice. It feels warm, informal and friendly, but many people (usually over 30 years of age) do not think it sounds right at all, that it sounds lazy.
If you look up ‘hey’ in a formal dictionary, the definition is something like “an interjection used to call attention.” Traditionally, ‘hey’ was just an exclamation. Sometimes it expressed delight, sometimes a warning.
It’s only quite recently that it has become a short, colloquial version of “How are you?” throughout the U.S.A. and beyond. From www.urbandictionary.com comes the following and modern definition for ‘Hey: The most informal form of greeting. Usually used in a friendly manner or to sound cool and relaxed.’
Where does it originate as a greeting? Well, like many American expressions, it is from the American South. A national survey conducted in the 1960s by the Dictionary of American Regional English found ‘hey’ used as a greeting restricted chiefly to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.