There are nearly as many ways to greet people as there are actual people in the world. “Hello” is bonjour in French, yassas in Greek, shalom in Hebrew, konnichiwa in Japanese, and hola in Spanish. But even in English, there are countless ways to greet folks, especially when saying “hi” to a friend. Here’s a smattering of colloquial greetings in English and where they came from.
While “howdy” as a greeting in the United States has Western connotations, mostly associated with the cowboys of Texas and Oklahoma, the roots of the phrase come from 16th-century England. It was originally a dialectal contraction of a phrase asking about someone’s health: “How do ye do?” By 1720, it had been shortened to “howdy’ee,” and since then it has evolved into just “howdy.”
“Hiya” is an extended form of “hi,” first noted by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as appearing in the 1940 novel Malice in Wonderland. “Hi” itself first appeared in American English around 1892, and was likely a variant of the Middle English hy. It became commonplace in the 20th century, enough so that a 1922 edition of Emily Post dictated that it was to be used only in informal scenarios: “A friendly greeting for people who already know each other, it should never be said in answer to a formal introduction.”
“Yo” first entered the English language in the early 15th century as an exclamation used to attract attention, to express warning or surprise, or to insight an action; it was commonly used among sailors. It was popularized as a greeting, particularly in African American vernacular English, beginning in the mid-19th century, then increased in popularity around World War II (likely as a common response at roll call).
Commonly shortened to “sup,” “wassup” is a colloquial version of “what’s up?” or “what’s happening?” While this slang greeting may seem like it belongs to the turn of the millennium, it appears as early as 1902 in the OED, traced to a British detective novel by Arthur Morrison called Hole in Wall: “Marr, ducking and lolling over the table, here looked up and said: ‘Wassup? Fiddler won’ go?’” Its contemporary popularity can likely be attributed to the famous Budweiser Super Bowl commercial from 2000.
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