Hey! My salutations have been gate crashed!
Why should we welcome this confident new arrival?
Words and turns of phrase have come and gone over the course of my life, driven by tech, media or the need to describe a new social circumstance. I barely noticed this particular interloper until US based AirBnB put the word right into my mouth.
“Hey”. I said (apparently) “My name is Julia”. And there was my photo and a short biopic on the newly formed profile. Up to that point I had perceived ‘hey’ as a millennial buzzword but it turns out “Hello” and “Hi” carry a surprisingly similar etymology. All represent a shifting blend of call for attention (that’s anything from calling hunting dogs to hailing a ferryman) with the potential to morph into an emphatic greeting at any moment.
The old high German language that contributed so much to middle English gave us “Hei”, “Hai” and other variants that were to become the great grand parent of all three words. Similar forms cropped up, probably from this root, in many Germanic countries and across Scandinavia.
Hardly surprising this breezy and seemingly modern greeting made itself so readily at home in our Cornish corner of western Europe.
More recent developments are also similar. Both Hi and Hello are perceived in Britain as Americanisms though they too share the old English ancestry carried to the new world by migrant Europeans. Hi was first attributed to the speech of a Kansas Indian (addressing an audience in English) in 1862 in the southern states of the US from whence it spread North, becoming accepted across America during the second half of the 20th century.
Hello became dominant with the advent of telephones when early exchange workers were introduced as “the hello girls” as recently as 1889. I personally remember the ‘correct’ spelling of Hello remained surprisingly flexible in the UK until around 1980 as it displaced the older forms hallo or Hullo.
This brings us to my favorite theory: that phonetically similar forms meaning the same thing (or very similar) consistently turn up across the world and in entirely unrelated languages, Finnish Hei, Unami He’ or mandarin Chineses āi for example.
So do I object then to this cheeky and increasingly prolific three letter vocab’ bomb?
It would appear “hey” might be a universal human expression. If the purpose of language is to facilitate communication,
who could ask more of a word?