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April 26th, 2006

Hey for hi / how fun is that / object or subject?

by Barbara Wallraff


Geraldine Kortas, of Southgate, Mich., writes: “Can you explain why show business is attempting to change from ‘hi’ to ‘hey’ the term of address we use when meeting someone casually? One actress in a movie made for television actually said ‘hi’ in reply to a ‘hey.’ I guess they thought it too expensive to reshoot the scene, so they left it in.”


Dear Geraldine: I’m afraid that horse has been out of the barn for years. And movies and television didn’t turn “hey” loose; their dialogue just reflects the way ordinary people talk.

I suppose the horse metaphor occurred to me because of the admonition “Hay is for horses” -- which is how mothers and schoolteachers used to respond when kids said “hey.” Until about the 1970s, most of us thought of “hey” as a not very articulate exclamation -- as in “Hey, cut it out!” Only in the South was it commonly used as a greeting. But, according to a usage note in the current edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, “The friendly ‘hey’ has since spread throughout the United States.” The note also reports, “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.”




Anita Turner, of Bangor, Maine, writes: “Since when has the word ‘fun’ been used like this: ‘How fun is that?’ and ‘That was way fun’? The terminology I learned, way back when, was ‘How much fun is that?’ and ‘That was so much fun.’”


Dear Anita: This is another horse that’s out of the barn. Way back when, “fun” was a noun and only a noun -- like, say, “trouble.” (“How much trouble is that?”) But then people started saying things like “That was a fun party!” (“That was a trouble party”? Uh, no.) That is, people began using “fun” as an adjective. Now adjective uses are fairly common, though they’re informal -- as I suppose befits fun stuff.

The horse that’s not yet loose is “way” used as in your example “way fun.” When it means “very,” “way” is slang. Only time will tell whether this use will become standard or whether “way” will retreat to more familiar (though still informal) turf, where it means something more like “far” -- as in “I hope this wasn’t way more than you wanted to know.”




Mike Malachowski, of Albany, N.Y., writes: “Please consider the sentences ‘Bill knows Jane and me’ and ‘Jane and I like to swim.’ When separate, the syntax seems pretty clear: ‘me’ is an object in the first sentence, and ‘I’ is a subject in the second sentence. But when I string them together, which is correct: ‘Bill knows Jane and I like to swim’ or ‘Bill knows Jane and me like to swim’?”


Dear Mike: “Jane and I like to swim” is a subordinate clause, or a sentence within a sentence. Bill knows something -- and what is it? He knows (that) Jane and I like to swim. In this case, the object of the verb is not just “Jane and me”; it’s the whole sentence about us swimmers. The grammar of smaller elements like subordinate clauses is supposed to remain intact when another element like “Bill knows” is added.




© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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