Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

The use of “hey” in place of “hello”.

I never paid this much attention until my dad mentioned today that it’s never sounded right to him when people say “hey” instead of “hi” or “hello”. I’ve been using it this way for at least 20 years, but I looked it up in various dictionaries and haven’t yet found a definition consistent with this usage. Most references just define it as “an interjection used to call attention” or something similar and leave it at that. Any thoughts or references that might shed some light?

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As quoted from

***Traditionally, hey was just an exclamation. Sometimes it expressed delight, sometimes a warning. Nowadays we find it used for emphasis as well, especially in the expression but hey. It is also a greeting. It is a short, colloquial version of How are you? and thus close kin to the informal salutation hi, which it seems to be replacing in many situations. Until recently, this greeting had a distinctly Southern flavor. The national survey conducted in the 1960s by the Dictionary of American Regional English found hey as a greeting restricted chiefly to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The friendly hey has since spread throughout the United States.***

So, 1) Yet another salutation formed from what was originally a warning.
2) Yet another Southernism shared by all. Hey, I like that! :)

germanywx Jan-29-2006

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"Hey" means "hello" in Swedish.

Zac1 Jan-29-2006

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This reminds me of the parental admonishment "Hey is for horses!" Which is usually used when a child says "hey" to get their parent's attention.

IngisKahn1 Jan-30-2006

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It's similar to "oi" in England, which is said more to get someone's attention than as a greeting.

Skinhead punk music is commonly called "oi," which always annoyed me in North America. Shouldn't it be "hey" music?

Jon2 Jan-31-2006

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as Zac Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and a few other languages, "hej" means "hello," although the "j" is pronounced as a "y" of course.

Robert2 Jan-31-2006

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Jon, oi in England? Thanks for the info. My Mother-in-law is English and I hear an occasional "oi" out of her. I would always think to myself, "How odd. Why is my Episcopal Mother-in-law speaking Yiddish?" Now, you've clarified it for me:)

porsche Jan-31-2006

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Hej is spelled Hej. (hello in swedish)

LP Feb-22-2006

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I'd venture to say this is popular in the Southest US. While living there, I remember overhearing a girl say to a friend, "Hey! Don't walk by without saying 'Hey'"

James4 Mar-16-2006

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It's pretty common throughout the U.S., I think. Originally southern, but no longer, as JP said.

And, also as he said, and contrary to what Jon said, "hey" as a greeting (as opposed to a request for attention) is *very* common. In fact, I'd say the "Hey!" meaning "Hi there!" is *more* common, nowadays, than the "Hey!" meaning "I'm here; pay attention to me!"

Avrom Mar-16-2006

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I'd guess that the English "oi" is more probably linked to the Dutch "Hoi" which is used as "hi" or "hello". Hej, hi, hoi, hey etc all most likely share the same root I'd have thought.

I'd also guess that the Dutch hoi is the root of the nautical "Ahoy", give that coutry's strong nautical heritage and contribution to nautical terms, which would also acount for the more common British English usage of "oi" being an exclamation to attract attention as in "Oi! What are you doing here?".

AndyA Mar-21-2006

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I am English, and I use 'hey' to say 'hi'.
'Oi' means something entirely different.. can be used to call someone's attention, but it is usually negative, as in, 'OI, what the hell do you think you're doing?' etc.
I wouldn't worry that you can't find it in the dictionary! It's slang, the language is growing and changing all the time.

Helen2 Mar-21-2006

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Hey and Hi are clearly etymologically related. I mean, they're practically the same word (phonologically, at least). The difference between them is not semantic. Both are colloquialisms in English, but I would say that the former is more colloquial than the latter, hence its frequent as an attention-getter (but only when addressing someone of similar or lower social position).

A_O Apr-14-2006

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I'm a native Texan, aged 30, and it saying 'Hey' rather than 'Hi' or 'Hello' is very common.
For example, saying 'Hello' to a co-worker in the hall comes off as sounding too formal, too snobby.
'Hey, What's Up?' or 'Hey, How's it going?' could be used to greet a colleague to either start a conversation or simply in passing.

In this area, 'Hey' is an accepted greeting-but definitely a colloquialism.

Jenn1 Aug-01-2006

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I've been hearing and saying "hey" for at least the past 30 years. And, by the way, I asked her and it turns out that my Mother-in-law IS speaking Yiddish when she says "oi", afterall!

porsche Aug-01-2006

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This used to be a Southern thing - it has spread, which makes me kind of sad, as I miss being made fun of for it by my relatives in Kansas.

Here's a clue if a person is REALLY Southern - anyone these days will say "hey" in greeting, but if you are talking ABOUT greeting someone, and still use "hey," you are a true Southerner. For example:

"Let's stop in at Arlene's and say 'hey.'"


"Tell Aunt Jean I said 'hey.'"


"I just called to say 'hey.'"

Jamie1 May-18-2007

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Is there any romantic meaning in the word hey?
Never a use a hi or hello, but a comfortable hey used in conversation.

Diana1 Jan-05-2008

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How about howdy?

anonymous4 Jan-17-2008

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I live in Cincinnati, and "hey" is very common here. It is, however, considered "familiar" and informal; you would never say "hey" to your boss. It is often used in a flirtatious sense, at least around here.

Crow Jan-17-2008

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When I learned English letter writing, the only Salutation available was "Dear"Mr. So and So... not "Hey"Mr. So and So

For familiar use, especially in daily speech, anything goes and Hey can be tolerated, accepted and may even be endearing. But there has to be a difference in formal letter writing, there should be some politeness, refinement and grace. I can't imagine for example the teacher sending a note to the students starting with:

Hey students,
I would like to make an announcement....

If that's already happening, what has become of this country's culture? Does the word respect and refinement still exist? Have we given up on being classy at the expense of being hip, young or modern as an excuse?

lilia Jan-22-2008

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Here I've been a tad offended by a daughter-in-law addressing me with "Hey" instead of Hi Mom or something similar. Getting a card today from a 15 year old granddaughter addressed the same, I realized it must be a new form of greeting. But still seems a bit disrespectful to these 75 year old ears.

joan1 May-22-2008

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"Hey" wasn't used as a greeting when I was young (in Alaska and Washington). However, in the 60s the blacks made "Hey, Man" popular among the younger generation. I suspect the present use of "hey" for a greeting came from that usage.

JohnE Jun-06-2008

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I used the "Peace be upon you" when greeting others.:)

jun Jul-17-2008

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I was using Hey in French as a greeting, and my friend got offended

maubry Aug-08-2009

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I use "Hey" often. It is familiar and has affectionate overtones. I learned English growing up in northern Idaho. I lived in eastern Washington for the last 10 years and I'm now 25 years old.

danielsargent Nov-20-2009

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Interestingly Hello was originally hullo, which was an exclamation of surprise.
"Hullo! what have we here"
That being the case, I'm all for using hey as a greeting.

Linguistic evolution rolls on.

grizzlychicken Mar-26-2010

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I've noticed that a number of books I've read from 1940's and before, from the UK, use "hallo" rather than "hullo" or "hello".

porsche Mar-27-2010

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The first time I ever heard "Hey!" used as a greeting, was Gomer Pyle using it on The Andy Griffith Show. I always thought might be where it started.

bestideaman Feb-18-2011

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The term "oi" is more of a "hoy" but the h is dropped. I'm an English male. Hoy!, for example, is more about admonishment or negatively putting someone down who may be either cheeky or trying to get away with something. Form example, if I was cheeky to dad, he'd say oy, with a dropped h for being cheeky. The Yiddish version is more of an elongated oyyyyyy, and more about dispair or exasperation than a greeting. At least this is my take on the topic

Nick1 Apr-07-2011

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Willie Mays was known as the "Say Hey Kid" from early in his career with the NY Giants which started in 1951 and all baseball loving Canadians like me were aware of that, but I don't think we started to use "hey" as another way of saying "hi" until at least the 60s and perhaps later.

Pat1 Apr-17-2011

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Most London Cockeggs slur out 'alright' as a greet over Hi, Hello etc.

'Oi' means what Helen said back in 2006.

Stanmund Apr-17-2011

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sdds Sep-15-2011

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@IngisKahn ... All these years and no one has bothered to tell that "Hay is for horses." ... Not hey.

Hey has been around a long time ... hey
c.1200, variously, in Middle English, hei, hai, ai, he, heh, expressing challenge, rebuttal, anger, derision, sorrow, or concern; also a shout of encouragement to hunting dogs.

Þa onswerede þe an swiðe prudeliche, `Hei! hwuch wis read of se icudd keiser!' ["St. Katherine of Alexandria," c.1200]

But hey, what the heck! As a Southerner, I say we kept it alive so that the folks in the rest of the country could use it.

AnWulf Sep-15-2011

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AnWulf, the "hey'hay in hey/hay is for horses" is a double entendre referring, simultaneously and equally, to the grass and the previously-spoken greeting. As such, I would say that either spelling would be correct.

Well, actually, now that I think about it, "hey" makes a little more sense:

"Hay is for horses" means that "there exists this plant called hay, that is intended for horses to eat" and nothing more.

"Hey is for horses" means "the utterance you just made, "hey", is a barbarism that I'm criticising by comparing metaphorically to a plant that horses eat." The "hey" in "hey is for horses" refers the previously-spoken utterance.

Not that this proves anything, but in a Google vote, "hey" wins out, two to one.

porsche Sep-16-2011

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I would definitely not say that. It is unprofessional. For example; emails should only be ended in "Yours Truly" and Hey should be "Hello". I have been a manager for several years in the Insurance Business and this is what I dictate to my employees. If I see anyone write a letter with anything other then "Yours Truly" I will have them confronted about it.

I am going to change my name to hey for my first name ,hey also for my middle name , last name Fat Albert.People could then call out, Hey,Hey Hey Fat Albert.

walt ford Mar-14-2012

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I really like "hey" and "hi" and all those American terms discussed here. In South Africa we used to call "Howzitt?" in a cheery tone of voice, asking "How is it?", making it quite clear that we didn't want any serious reply, beyond perhaps "Ja" pronounced "Ya" and certainly were not concerned in the least about how the other party fared. I really like that too. But in the depths of rural England I hear an irritating variant: "All right???" meaning "Are you all right?" asked in a serious, worried and concerned tone, sounding as if the questioner suspects that the addressee has gone completely mad. Women entering pubs see friends already ensconced there, stop in their tracks and query : "You all right?" slowly and loudly, the note rising from conversational level to a high interrogative shriek, sounding like serious concern for the well-being of their victims. Actually they don't give a damn.

Brus Mar-15-2012

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In the UK Oi" or Hey" would usually be said in a sharp manner to bring a persons attention to something you were maybe concerned about i.e." Oi what do you think you are doing"
Hey or Hay used as a greeting would not be used in general as it would be seen as an Americanism.
"All right John" or "Hi John" etc. would only be used in a very casual friendly way." All right" is not intended or taken as an enquiry into a persons well being, just like "Howzitt" which sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.
But this is why we define American English and UK English, and as long as we can understand each other (all be it with some misunderstandings at times) what does it matter.
I would suggest from the pathetic attempt by BRUS to ridicule "All right" he should get it into his head that "Howzitt" is the variant. it's NOT English.

Diggerdave Apr-09-2012

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I've seen some here say it was from Old English 'hello' or one of the Scandinavian languages 'hel or Germanic 'heil' but the word is originated from the Roman 'eho' meaning to call to attention.

The origin is NOT from the word 'hello' but from 'hey!' a call to attract attention, c.1225, possibly a natural expression to obtain attention. It's recent usage as a form of greeting is just a coincidence to 'hello, heil and hel'.

Steve Page May-23-2012

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My mom is Swedish, so I grew up saying "Hey hey", which, reading this, I realize should be "Hej, hej", but no one in Missouri, where I grew up ever has said anything anything about it, several of my friends picked up the habit from me.

Poe May-29-2012

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As a child, born and bred in the heart of London, I would say, 'ay ? when what I meant was, "What did you say ?" I wasn't alone in this and the common response from a parent would be, " 'ay is for 'orses." 'h' was mostly redundant in London back in the thirties but there were plenty of 'orses around.

user1068774 May-30-2012

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I think hey is a horrible greeting, since in English English there's an implied exclamation mark, as with oi! As in "Hey you! Stop that!" So it's another importation from the States, as hi was originally, although hi is very widely used in Great Britain now.

Jackie Aug-20-2012

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@ Nick - I (also a Brit) totally agree, both on pronunciation and meaning. I just checked it in The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and was rather surprised not to find it under hoy, thinking oi was more a dialect thing. And their definition is 'used to attract somebody's attention, especially in an angry way' - Like - 'Oi, you! What do you think you're doing?'.Not exactly a greeting. But on the other hand on the street or in the pub In you might well hear something like 'Oi mate, got a fag?' I suppose we could say that's a greeting of sorts. (for non-Brits, fag=cigarette)

Warsaw Will Aug-20-2012

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@Jackie - English English? Are you excluding the rest of us who share these isles. But I do agree with you about the exclamation mark.
@Frightful - Nice one. Out of interest, did you also add aitches to e's as in 'this 'ere hedge of the table'. I take it you know the Heineken ad - "The wa'er in Majorca don't taste like what it ought'a". I've just noticed there's an 'oi' in it with a noticeable aitch. 'Oi, Dell! Any danger of some refreshment in 'ere' -

Warsaw Will Aug-20-2012

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I like "hey" when used as a friendly greeting - the tone of voice makes clear when you mean "hey!" in a "stop thief!" sense.
But "Brit" ? Now that is indeed horrible.

Brus Aug-20-2012

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@Brus - that was a bit personal, wasn't it?

Warsaw Will Aug-20-2012

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W Will - not in the slightest personal, no, not at all. British is fine, one of my own passports is indeed a British one. Sometimes I even live in Britain. Nothing against British people at all, sorry if that was the impression given.
My great distaste is for the 'word' Brit, which, like Yank or Frog when intended to denote someone's nationality, is, well, horrible, no matter how affectionately intended. Did American newspapers carry headlines about the Olympics like: " Yanks win lots and lots of medals "? or French ones :" Frogs don't win many medals, do we? " ? So why did British ones do "Brits do really rather well in medals table!" (I paraphrase all these, of course, because I have forgotten what they actually said). To me, 'Brit' ranks on the yuk! scale along with 'expat' which seems to be used to mean British people who are living as foreigners in another country. Nothing wrong with doing that, of course: I'll do it myself if it doesn't stop raining here soon. It's the word itself which grates on the ear like fingernails scraped on the blackboard (or is it chalkboard?). What's wrong with "foreigners" as the mot juste? In Thailand they use the charming term "farangs" which is the same thing, and it is my first choice of word here.
Again, sorry about the wrong impression given, of course nothing personal was intended.

Brus Aug-21-2012

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Well, I'm a foreigner in France at the moment, but I'm not an expatriate because I'm still officially resident in Britain. The French are unlikely to have a headline beginning "Frogs..." but they might well have one beginning "Les Rosbifs...". One might well see a headline "Scots do well..." or "Welsh..." or "Northern Irish..." but "British do well..." sounds a bid odd and old-fashioned. "Great Britain does well..." is a bit of a mouthful and so would probably get reduced to "GB does well..." but some people don't like the term "GB" any more than others like "Brits" - so who to please?!

Jackie Aug-21-2012

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Odd? Old fashioned? Yes - what's wrong with that?
Scots ... Welsh ... Northern Irish ... er, isn't one missing? Ah yes, the Engs! Scots tenth in medal table, were we an independent nation, Irish really good too, and the Welsh, and the Engs! You ask Who are the Engs? and I say they are the not odd and not old-fashioned word for the English.
It may seem odd and old-fashioned to say the British did well, but get used to it, Jackie; 3rd in the world behind two nations with mega-huge populations feels good!

Brus Aug-21-2012

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Sorry, Jackie, but to get back to the point of this area of discussion, I should have said "but hey! get used to it, Jackie; 3rd in the world behind two nations with mega-huge populations feels good!" (We are not meant to be talking about Brits and expats, really, it is all meant to be about hey!.)

Brus Aug-21-2012

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@Brus - I didn't think you were criticising me for being British; we may have our disagreements, but I know you're not that bad. Of course all of us indulge in attacking each other's arguments, but I think it's a bit of a slippery slope if we start directly attacking the language that other people use in their comments. Call me old fashioned, but I find that rather bad manners. A few people on the opposite side to me in these debates use what I consider pretty pompous and over-formal language, but I'd never dream of calling it 'horrible'. I did say somewhere else about an expression you used, that I wouldn't personally use it, but I admitted it was quite correct and I certainly didn't use this sort of emotive language. Sorry if I'm over-reacting.

As for Brits, it's just a bit of shorthand. I don't see the connection with Yanks and Frogs as these are not normally used by the inhabitants of those countries. I regularly read and occasionally comment on 'Separated by a 'common language', an excellent website run by an American linguist working in Britain on the differences between American and British English, where the word Brits is regularly used as a form of shorthand. Just because Americans don't like being called Yanks and French don't like being called Frogs, doesn't mean we Brits have to reject such a useful word.

And as for expat, it doesn't simply mean foreigner or foreign (it's also an adjective). I live and work in Warsaw. Saying I'm an expat is rather shorter than saying I'm a foreigner living and working here. What's more, there are certain pubs that are popular with British and Americans living and working here, and so they are known as expat pubs. As well as being longer, calling them pubs that foreigners go to wouldn't have the same meaning; they could just be for tourists. Expat has a very precise meaning, presumably just as farang has.

Warsaw Will Aug-22-2012

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W. Will,
I apologise if I have offended you by quoting your use of forms of English which I have then said are not to my liking, and I take aboard the gentle way in which you have phrased your rebuke.
Okay, I wince every time I hear "Brit" or "expat" and feel that just because they are increasingly widely used (which is exactly what I am moaning about) does not mean I should just roll over and say "whatever" or "fair enough, live with it then". British and Briton are handy enough words without needing to drop another syllable, and there have been American bars and English pubs and Irish bars and pubs across the world for a very long time, and I have extensive experience of very many of them across three continents. I very much hope they will continue to stay in business long enough to be there for my next visit. In Bangkok, for example, I recommend Molly Malone's in soi Convent, close by Silom, as a fine Irish bar, well liked by the better sort of farang.
But I did not intend to offend you, as I have said before, only to rail against the dreadful debasement of the English language as so eloquently described elsewhere by Jackie from France. She sums up much of what I have grumbled about in the past, and I agree with everything I have just read from her.

Brus Aug-22-2012

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@Brus = 'nuff said (if you'll excuse the colloquialism). But to get back to expat. English pubs and Irish pubs (which rarely have much to do with Ireland) in other countries are not the same as expat bars. Expat bars are where people living and working in a foreign country go. In Warsaw they are just as likely to be Polish pubs as any other. And it is hard to find a more efficient way of talking about the expat community. Or for example saying that you like to avoid the expat scene. One word and everyone understands what you mean. And foreigner really won't do, because the word expat is used when I'm talking with other native speakers, to whom I'm definitely not a foreigner. (Couldn't get out of using the dreaded 'whom' there!)

Warsaw Will Aug-23-2012

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@Brus - just noticed something you said. British people virtually never refer to themselves as Britons. This is mainly used by newspapers and to
talk of the ancient Britons.

Warsaw Will Aug-23-2012

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@Brus ... While many in the US would find nothing wrong with the word "yank", it is for that they are indeed "yanks" ... a northerner. The bloodiest war in US history was the War between the States ... aka the Civil War ... and aka by those in the South as the "War of Northern Aggression" or "Lincoln's War". In that war, the northerners were known as "yanks" or "yankees". Still, to this day, it's an insult in the South to call someone a "yank" or "yankee". The word is often said with "damn" ... as in "damn yanks" or "damn yankees".

It's brings a smile to a Sutherner's face when little suthernisms such as "hey" break out and spread to the rest of the country. Sooner or later, they'll get to saying "y'all" as well! lol

AnWulf Aug-25-2012

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AnWulf: I thank you for your most lucid exposition of the usage and meaning of the word "Yank". I may sometimes adjust my usual greeting on entering a pub, to "harrorehh, y'all, howzitt?!" (Scot, US and SA) but only if I know the folk already there, and only if I am intoxicated on arrival. But I would never call them Yanks, for 1) fear of causing offence and 2) because I never have gone and never do go to the US, so they wouldn't be.

Brus Aug-25-2012

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Another thread hijacked by AnWulf and Brus. Hey guys, how about we don't clutter these threads with so many side arguments and petty personal attacks?

Wellid Aug-27-2012

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@Wellid - I think you're probably new here, at least as a commenter. AnWulf and Brus have, admittedly, pretty idiosyncratic (and opposite) ideas about English, and I tend to disagree with just about everything Brus says about English, but they're both quite harmless and generally pretty civil. They really are part of the furniture round here, and Pain in the English wouldn't be what it is without them.

And if you think they monopolise the threads or produce a lot of side arguments, there's someone you obviously haven't met yet (and I'm not talking about me!).

The length of these threads seems to be more or less unlimited, so they're not taking argument space from anyone else.If you don't like their contributions, just skip them, as I do when AnWulf goes into his strange dialect (ideolect would perhaps be a more suitable word here, as I think he's the only person in the world who speaks it). Or when Brus starts teaching us English grammar :). But they both add a bit of colour to the discussions. And AnWulf can be quite knowledgeable sometimes :).

Warsaw Will Aug-28-2012

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Mark Twain, in a letter to Bob and Louise Howland, used the phrase "It's a great country--Hey, Bob?" in an 1870 letter the context seeming to mean "Isn't that so, Bob?"

Robert E Stewart Sep-16-2012

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I just thought of something it could be rap to blame for spreading Hey around because rap is so popular with people under 50. Just saying hey.

JudyB Oct-06-2012

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As mentioned by other posters, "Hey" comes from the Swedish "HEJ" which means hello or hi. Swedes settled in what is now Delaware in the 1600's and later in the midwest and their hej was taken by others as an exclamation.

Corsica Dec-04-2012

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Just found this thread on 'hey' and not wishing to throw a spanner in the works, but I know of two old North West England farmsteads, Ridding Hey and Sir Richard Hey. I think in old England a hey was an area of land, it dates back to pre 1760.

Anderoo Mar-11-2013

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As a Southerner from NC, I find most of these comments ignorant. Hey is used in place of hello or to get someone's attention when you see them in person. I say hello when I answer my phone. And it isn't Swedish, at least not here. North Carolina was settled by Scots, Irish and Germans. The Swedes didn't have anything to do with how we speak.
So hey and yall is a part of my heritage and I am proud of it. Don't care where it came from,don't care if you don't like it.
I wish yall had picked up "yoos guys" instead and left hey, shrimp and grits and red velvet cake to the people of the South.

ncscot May-14-2013

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I found this thread while looking for the origins of the term 'hey' -- I was studying Native American culture, mainly Navajo, and found that the term for greeting someone is (phonetically) ah'tee'hay. I was wondering if the term was shorten slightly to our hey -and used as a greeting. The Southern areas could have been exposed to this influence due to the tragic exportation of the Tribes in the late 1880's-- many were taken to Florida, the Carolinas, and other parts south. Any thoughts on this suggestion?

Spence Aug-14-2013

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In South African English "hey" is used to emphasise a question mark, as in "Is you ous (translation 'guys') cummin (coming), hey?" The connection between these fine people and Navajo Indians is perhaps a bit of a tenuous one, hey?

Brus Aug-15-2013

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True-- but I doubt if this is germane to the basic question of /hey/ as a greetings. The Canadians have been using a form of hey to end a statement for many years~"Welcome to the The Great White North, 'ay?" but that's not the concern of this query. We've established there are many paths and usages for the word... I want to know if the Amerindian had a hand in its use as a greeting. Although your comment leads to another and just as interesting question as to how that usage got started as well! Hey, we'll just have to check that out, too, hey?

Spence Aug-17-2013

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Hej is Swedish etc. Oi is from oyez, Latin/French for "hear ye!" Or Listen up! Which is Spanish, Latin languages. Thus showing English as invasions of ceilings and the Norman conquest.
I did read far enough to hear from the Swedish contingent, but stopped halfway through, so maybe this has been already answered.
"Oyez, oyez" was changed to "hear ye, hear ye" in legalese sometime after the Elizabethan period, but I don't know exactly when off hand.

Caliallye Aug-22-2013

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I have lived all over the western USA and Hey is NOT used as hello. I am nearly 60 years old and it's news to me that people interchange Hey with hi or hello. No one where I live or work in the Denver, Colorado Metro would use Hey to say Hi. Hey is used to interrupt or get attention, usually preceding a warning.. So Hey puts you on guard and if I hear HEY!, my first reaction is "What?" The feeling inside is the exact opposite of Hi or Hello... it causes tension and alertness to danger.

StevenR Aug-25-2013

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Well, from Carson City/Reno, Nevada, 76 years old, and have lived in Nevada since 1862. For many years, I traveled all over the state on business, and had friends in two-thirds of the small towns, if not more.
I have to disagree with the non-use in the West comment, albeit in a slightly different context. I often heard, on parting, someone add "Say Hey to {John, Mary, &c.]" Not a greeting to the individual, but a request to pass along a greeting and remembrance to someone "hello from ...."

Robert E Stewart Aug-25-2013

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This is an interesting very long thread about the term "hey". I happened to google, the question of "When is it proper to used "hey" vs "hi"?, because i was curious whether it's acceptable in business environment to use hey on email conversation. I would say between peers it's ok. But using "hey" to your boss seems unprofessional? On the contrary if your boss or another individual in your company who is of higher position than yourself would address you using "hey" seems degrading to you? Let me know what you think?

Wreaths Anaseb Aug-28-2013

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In the Sixties there was a particular album by Jim Neighbors of TV fame. He played a 'hilly-billy idiot' named Gomer Pyle in the Marine Corps in a TV series called, strangely enough, 'Gomer Pyle, USMC'.
Jim had a set of pipes that would be the envy of many a Broadway star and had many very good album releases of serious music, but he did this one album as Gomer, goofy accent and all. The single from the LP was 'You Cain't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd', if that sets the feel of the whole thing for you! One of the more rollicking and rousing numbers was 'Gomer Sez HEY!'.
Now I'm not sure if it's just me, but I think anything that could be associated with Gomer Pyle should be immediately classified as non-professional and should be avoided at all costs! Unless, of course, your boss is a hilly-billy.... And I would consider it a bit of a slight to be addressed that way if you're not one.
*Ya'll kin say 'hey' t'me all ya'll want. Downright neighborly soundin' 'round these parts! Ah'm proud t'be a' Appalachian American!

Spence Aug-28-2013

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Well, Spence, as you mentioned it was the 60's. And there was plenty of lame tv out there. But you kind of got me riled up with the stings to Appalacia. They (the Irish and the Scots) settled in the remote mountains to be left alone. Had enough of the English telling them how to do and when to do it.

They faced disease, famine and loss of life to come to America where they assumed they would be free. But the English were back, over HERE.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was the turning point in the war. The mountain boys traveled from all over and vanquished the British. The North got their gumption back and the English retreated.

And although this has nothing to do with the word "hey", neither did most of your comments. I am proud of my southern heritage and the fact that we speak English with an American accent rather than a British one thanks to my ancestors. And Yes, they were there.

So say hey to all the people in your family who helped found this country since the 1600's.

And heaven forbid you don't have any rednecks at family reunions that you attend. I feel sorry for you. We rednecks can be so ornry.

ncscot Sep-01-2013

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Oh and Spence, it's hillbilly, And if you don't know when to use the word "hey", just don't use it. You aren't one of us. And we aren't sorry about that.

ncscot Sep-01-2013

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Like a few others have said, I think of "hey" in greeting as
expressing mild but pleasant surprise upon seeing the
other person. The intonation often reflects this, too.
In fact, the degree of surprise can be dialed in with the
intonation. There's "hey" and then there's "hey!".

I grew up in Southern California, and would never
say "let's stop by to say 'hey'".

GB1 Sep-04-2013

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In Australia we use the word hey in a few different ways but only very recently (Via USA tv shows like Friends and Buffy the vampire slayer) have we started using hey instead of hi as a greeting. It is extremely colloquial, used nearly exclusively by younger people. The word hey is used on its own to attract attention and I see it most commonly in a mixture of the two, a friendly attention seeking greeting, in texts (Hey, wt r u up 2?) and emails and informal chat between young people.

We also use hey as an exclamation of negative interjection (Hey! that's my apple!) interchangeably with Oi. There are a lot of expat Brits (pommies) in Aust.

Hey is also used as an identifier for a question where you are expecting an agreeable answer. (all done, hey?)

Or on it's own (What?) (Hey?) (Huh?)

Hey is a jack of all trades kind of word,

Chanel no5 Nov-27-2013

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Okay Idiots, here's the etymology of the modern usage of the salutation: "Hey".

Although this word, in its various forms, has been used since in the English language since the late 15th century, it was not used as a common salutation until late 1950's. Before then, "hey" was a word used to call attention to a emergency situation or to gain the attention of someone beyond earshot.

Then, in the late 1950's, the word "Hey" became a greeting for post WWII veterans as an alternate to "hello" or "hi". How this came about, I don't know. What I do know, is that the usage of the word "Hey" as a greeting became popularized in the movie "American Graffiti" in 1973. This was carried on by the character "Fonzie" played by Henry Winkler in the TV series "Happy Days" which was aired from 1974-1980. "The Fonze" greeted his friends by saying "heeeey" whilst using an thumbs up sign.

I was in high school while this was all going on. I never said "Hey" to any of my high school friends until about 1980, when, all of a sudden, "hey" became the cool way to say "hi". It has remained that way to this date.

Long story short, the salutation "hey" in modern American English is due to a movie and a TV show. Nothing more, nothing less. That's how language evolves. Get over it.


Ben Pendleton May-05-2014

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I wonder what the etymology of 'Okay Idiots' as a salutation is. In fact, 'hey' as an interjection goes back rather further than that, to 1200, apparently.

Warsaw Will May-06-2014

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I wonder if it does not stem even further back to ancient Hebrew or ancient Semitic language. From my understanding the letter "hey" represents the divine breath or revelation. So "hey" would be a revealing of oneself, in this case God, to that of others via divine breath. We are aware of the others presence when we see them move(like breathing) and communicate, but we say they are not with us when they cease to do so (i.e. death). So when we express "hey" we are actually calling peoples attention to the fact that we are present and breathing, we are indeed alive. It is also a recognition to the other that we are aware of them also. It is a very old custom of greeting that brings attention to one another, that makes aware that each breathes and that each is acknowledged. It is really a relational word, that has perhaps taken on, unfairly, negative meanings.

Philip Apr-25-2016

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Someone asked me how to respond to a text message (from a prospective employer) which began "Hey John" .
My usual advice is use whatever they do - use "Dear" if they do, and "Hi" if they do - but, hey, "Hey" sounded just too informal, and "Dear" too formal, so the solution was "Hi " + first name.
"Hey" is NOT the same as 'Hello' or 'Hi'

jayles the unknighted Apr-25-2016

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Did I get an earful on a "Hey!" when I was in London!!

The concierge in my apartment really took offence when I casually greeted him - "Hey!"

I got something on these lines:
"That's very disrespectful of you. How dare you 'hey' me?!"

So I have been ever so careful when using "hey" over a "hi" or a "hello". I thought this was a very English thing, but quite surprising to find quite a few English folks on this page to be okay with "hey".

Hey, what the heck!

benjamin1 Jun-27-2016

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I have a problem with being addressed by the word "Hey". First that is not my name and second I find that people do that because they don't respect you enough to use your name. Third, because they will continue to do so because they think they are better/higher than you. Lastly, it makes me feel that as a human being, we haven't made it as far as we thought.

ALL4SVH Oct-05-2016

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I have discovered an American comedy show on British television called 'Everyone loves Raymond', in which all members of a family whose ancestors come from Italy but who now live on Long Island greet one another on each entrance on set by saying 'hey' in a listless manner. In Britain it would suggest you are about to rebuke or criticise the addressee, and is no good as a greeting for this reason. On the other hand the British really don't know what to say instead of 'hey'. Here in Dorset people enquire, seemingly anxiously, "You all right then?" on a rising note which can end in a shriek. I would prefer 'hey', but settle for 'good evening/morning/afternoon'.

Brus Oct-05-2016

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Title: "Hi is for Girls"
Hey everybody! Its almost 11 years later from the original post. There was a fellow Cincinnatian who posted how we used it here. Cincinnati is considered the "Gateway to the North" & we have both Northern & Southern influences here.

Hey, to my understanding, started as an exclamation followed by a comment or question. Eg: "Hey! How have you been?" "Hey! Nice to see you!" and then everything else got dropped and we are left with "Hey!" then the exclamation got dropped and so "Hey" came to carry the same meaning as "Hi".

Now here's what I meant by "Hi is for girls". Around here girls use Hi more than guys. Hi is cuter and softer.

If you're male and speaking to another male informally and say "Hi" it might be interpreted as effeminate, old-school or just plain nerdy. Now if the two males are on more formal speaking terms then "Hi" would not be interpreted that way.

So if you don't know someone say "Hi, how are you." If you're meeting with the guys to go out to the gym or a night in the city & you say "hi" then you might be teased unless you've all found the softer sides of yourselves.

Cincinnatian Dec-15-2016

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Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

Alun Evans Jan-17-2017

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Hey is fast becoming the silent language of lovers. It speaks volumes though only one word is spoken. It's a deep expression of emotional feelings from one or both parties. It is softly spoken and sometimes can't be heard by 3rd parties present but the two minds that are connected. Mostly used when there's a barrier to loving each other openly, often used in electronic messaging to call each others attention or to just say "I'm missing you " while playing safe in case the message drops into wrong hands, then it can be easily classified as "an ordinary greeting" Jan-30-2017

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It's possible that the origin of the greeting, "hey" goes back a very long time ago, like maybe the 1600s -- to the Native American Navajo greeting, "Yata Hey"

Joyce May-22-2017

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"Hey" is Southern and has a warm inviting feeling that is expressed, much different than just "Hi".

Caroline Reid Oct-02-2017

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This thread has been running for years and years! I don't believe at all that "hey" goes back to a native American greeting. It's been used in British English for a very long time to attract someone's attention dramatically, as in "Hey, you there!" or "Hey, stop that!" It's used mostly towards strangers; otherwise one would call them by name. It's certainly nothing to do with the "silent (??) language of lovers" in Britain. It can be aggressive, and is never used to address someone in an email.
Hi is definitely an import from America, still resisted by some who don't wish the English language to become americanised, and is an informal greeting equivalent to "hello". It's become accepted as a greeting at the beginning of an email, instead of the more formal "Dear...".

Jackie Oct-04-2017

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One thing I like about the www is no matter what they subject, somebody's discussing it. Glad I found this page.
I don't necessarily mind when the word is used verbally- "Hey there, how are you doing?" or "Hey Bob, over here!!" but it sets my teeth on edge when it's used to address someone in emails, on forums, and in texts, and from my experiences it always comes from individuals who are not known to the recipient.

CAS Nov-23-2017

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There is a male coworker that when ever he speaks to the females in our office always starts with "Heyyy name, how's it going?" Is it just me, i feel it is so disrespectful and annoying. What are your thoughts?

Rajena Andrews Feb-15-2018

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I cannot find any other origin for the word 'Hey' Where I live in Liverpool we have a famous Children's Hospital called 'Alder Hey' and I was talking to someone about that word. It was suggested that it may have originally been Hay but I seem to remember as a child thinking the word 'Hey' had some meaning associated with the countryside.

Chris Simpson Mar-29-2018

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user106928 Apr-02-2018

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I am a Mid-Westerner mostly living abroad for the last few decades but visiting the U.S. annually. I have never heard this greeting in person, but I have been struck by the frequency of it in U.S. t.v. shows. I was raised with the phrase "Hey/Hay is for horses." In other words, the word was considered rude and inappropriate except in such cases as "Hey, watch where you're going" or (less acceptable) "Hey, that's a great idea."

Looking at the material cited from the Urban Dictionary ("friendly"), it seems I have been misunderstanding a lot of these shows.

I don't think I will personally "feel" it as friendly if someone uses it on me, but I now know that I should translate it as so -- I guess.

user106898 May-28-2018

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Growing up in Kansas (midwest US), greeting is/was Hi. Moved to (South) Georgia US when I was 12. Greeting here is Hey. Has a special sound with a southern accent (My Georgia history teacher was Ms. Ray, so I got to practice by saying "Hey Ms. Ray". It's not the same as in a sentence such as "Hey, what are you doing?" Reading the comments above re Native American words, I'm wondering if that IS connected.

Ms. Hoo Jan-29-2020

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Hey! You dropped your hat kid...
hey! Leave it alone
Hey is to call attention alright. However when speaking or texting an adult specially an older person, your boss, your mother in law, your own mother or father, I feel it should be after you have said a proper greeting. Hello, hey do you know when will the children come from vacation? Better yet skip the hey all together. Personally I see it as a sign of ignorance.

Rosalia Jul-19-2020

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"Hey" is used in Scandanavian countries ( eg: Hej / Hei / Hæ ) it is an actual word - so this is likley where "hey" comes from
In the Netherlands, it is "hoi"

I know sometimes people from the US might feel like they invented English but it's not the case, sorry :-)

MeamI Sep-23-2020

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Using the word “hey” is so cringe worthy. It sounds uneducated and so American. When businesses use this as their opening email, I wonder who approved of it. Amateurs.

Lnp0810 Aug-08-2021

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Seeing the word hey is so cringe worthy!!! Informal and practically slang as it gets. When a business uses it as the opening to an email, I really question those in charge.

Lnp0810 Aug-08-2021

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I grew up in the south and I remember being strongly discouraged to use "hey", especially when trying to get the attention of an adult (as children tend to do). It was a sin equal to tapping someone's shoulder, or tugging at their shirt - it's just rude. I can certainly see using it around close peers but it still strikes me as a little uncouth.

Alan1971 Jul-19-2023

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user1161581 Nov-21-2023

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