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?
- Posted by andrew3
- Filed in Etymology / History
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***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! 🙂
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.
as Zac said. in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and a few other languages, “hej” means “hello,” although the “j” is pronounced as a “y” of course.
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, visit this link you’ve clarified it for me:)
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'”
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!”
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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?”.
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.
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).