Sunday, December 16, 2007

Drive by Awkward

The phrase "Hey, how's it going?" and permutation there of have got to go from walking vernacular. When two people are passing each other on the street there's just not enough time for the long winded highly impersonal exchange of greetings...

-Hey, How's it going?

-Just fine, and you?

-I'm alright.

By the time I get to 'Just fine' the other person is behind me. If I just leave it there I feel like I've been self-centered by not asking after his/her welfare in return. If I try to squeeze in the 'and you?' it's too late, there's not enough time, even if they heard me I'm always out of earshot for the response. Am I the only person that see this exchange as socially non-optimal?

If we both just said, 'Good afternoon', that would get as much pleasantry out of the way without leaving me stranded in the wake of self-conscious stupor.

Be warned: The next person I pass who pulls this on me is getting strongly rebuffed. Let me give you a little visual.

Bob walks past David

Bob: "Hey man, how's it going?"

David: *Calling over his shoulder* "Fuck you Bob. Fuck you."

Or, I guess we could all walk slower.


Gonch In Goal said...

Haha, I think about this everytime. I think it just bothers me because the person doesn't always really care "how it's going", more they just feel they can't walk by without saying something. Usually I just give a hey unless it's someone I'm socially comfortable with, but then that'll just become a conversation, joke, or interesting remark.

What do you do when the response is "Pretty bad man, pretty bad"? Do you stop to find out why or just rudely keep going? Boy I like to overthink things.

Mauro said...

You know, there's always the hope that actually the two people might stop to chat. It happens occasionally, especially if you answer in more detail than just "pretty good, pretty good". If you say "pretty bad, pretty bad" the interlocutor might not notice, in which case you probably didn't want to talk to him or her anyway, or maybe he or she will, and you can explain that you really only said that to get his or her attention and make him or her late for class.

nerzhin said...

What if it's not afternoon?

Sean said...

I hadn't thought about that. It mostly happens in the afternoon.

How about, Salutations.

Gonch In Goal said...

Wouldn't you just say Good Morning regardless of the occasion? I thought that was an issue long since solved.

Jonathan said...

So things alone the lines of "What's up?" are supposed to be cooler synonyms for "Hey." at this point, the problem with "How's it going?" is that some people expect and answer and some don't. "How's it going?" is even more ambiguous because it may be the intent to start a stop-and-chat, but that varies a lot too. It certainly is overused though, case in point: it's actually impolite to honestly answer the question (in many circumstances) unless your answer is "Just fine" or some variant.

Mauro said...

A linguistics friend posed me this problem, which is interesting and relevant. It makes more sense spoken, but anyway:

There are two math teams, one young and inexperienced, but very excited about learning, and one older and more experienced, but only worrying about the formulas necessary to win. There are also two coaches, one also young and excited, and one also older and more knowledgeable about what is specifically relevant.

The question: which one would you want to coach?

The other question: which one would you wanna coach?

The point is that "wanna" is unambiguous and refers, in this case, to which team you would want coached, whereas "want to" is ambiguous and could also refer to whom you would want coaching. There's a subtlety of direct and indirect objects at play, and his theory was that there is a particle between "want" and "to" when there's a direct object there, even though the sentence structure is inverted, so that if you uninvert it, you'd get "I would want that one to coach" instead of "I would want to coach that one." For the second, "I would wanna coach that one" works just as well (albeit informally) whereas for the first, it clearly cannot work. And if you think about it, we actually say them differently even when we don't use the contraction.

The roundabout point is that a particular inflection in the question-greeting could make it awkward for a conversation to not start up, whereas a different inflection would imply that is it only a greeting and not at all question. Example: "'Sup, homes." "Yo." Another example: "What's up, homes?" "I caught ma girl cheatin' wit' my dawg, yo." Example: "Hey, how's it goin'." "Yo." Another example: "Hey, how've you been?" "I'm tired, yo!"

I don't have a theory as good as that friend's (I also don't have a PhD in linguistics, which hopefully he does already?), but my guess it that it works on some similar principle where various cues indicate whether the proper response is a greeting/acknowledgment/nothing at all (if the greeting in question is already the response to your opening greeting, it needs no second-order response) or an actual answer and short conversation.

David McIntyre said...

I will take this into consideration. Perhaps I won't tell the next person I pass where they can store their greeting, but instead help the evolution of the language along.

Bob - "Hey, how's it going?"
David - "Hey, how's it going Bob?"

With the pitch inflection at the end of the sentence skillfully removed as to demonstrate that it is not really a question. I imagine it sounding like the call and response from the chain gang in Cool Hand Luke.

"Taken it off here boss?"
Taken it off there Luke"

I think I could find this an acceptable, all be it odd, addition to the modern vernacular.

Gonch In Goal said...

Also I should note the "Fuck you Bob" recalls a Lewis Black joke about Hurricane Bob. "Bob is not a Hurricane, Bob is an insurance salesman, from Topeka, Kansas. You meet Bob in an airport bar and at first Bob shows you pictures of his kids and family, and you think Bob's not such a bad guy. Then he tries to sell you insurance, and you have to say, fuck you, Bob. That is a Bob."

Adam Entertainment said...

See also Mitch Hedberg, the number 13, and the name Bob.