Sunday, May 20, 2007


I was buying milk at the store this morning when the cashier asked me how I was doing.

Now, I know the proper response is "Well," as it is an adverb modifying the verb "doing," whereas "good" is an adjective and is, technically, the improper response to the question. However, when I respond by saying "well" I often feel like a pedantic ass, so, in most situations, I respond with the improper but familiar response.

"Good," I said, "how are you?"

"Well," she said.

That sort of exchange kind of puts me in a bind. I would like to say to her, "You know, I'd like to go back a little bit and change my response to 'well' because I know that is the proper English." Of course, you can't do that because it would make you look like a pedantic ass.

However, it made me think that maybe SHE was being a pedantic ass by sort of correcting me with her reply. It seems to me that if you make a generic query like "How are you?" (a query that really isn't even asking for a response--she doesn't care how I'm doing, and if I launched into a monologue about how awesome my marriage is, she will regret having asked me), politeness would seem to dictate that you mirror the person's response. After all, the question is simply a pleasantry, and it isn't pleasant to make the person you are talking to feel like a chump for using improper grammar.

That is why I call for a moratorium henceforth and forever more on asking the question "How are you?" or any of its variants (e.g. "How's it going?" et al).

First of all, the person rarely if ever cares what you say in response. Often, when I say "Hi" to someone in the morning as I am passing them in the hall at work, and if they respond "How's it going?", I will not respond, as I simply assume they are using the question to say "Hi" in return.

Second of all...well, I've already established the second of all.

But the problem has not been solved. What do I do if someone asks me the question first? I can't be a jerk and not respond. But I don't want to keep doing this over and over every day:

YOU: "How's it going?

ME: (Insert variant of "good" here: can't complain, not bad, hanging in there, it's Friday, staying busy) "How are you?"

YOU: (Insert variant of "good" here: can't complain, not bad, hanging in there, it's Friday, staying busy)
That's why I propose countering these types of questions with absurdity. Let's assume there are two generic questions: "How are you?" and "What's new?/What's going on?" What if we responded to one question as if we were really asked the other question. For instance:

"How are you?"

"Not much."


"What's new?"

"Can't complain."

If we all began doing this, we have a chance to make a dent in this rhetorical scourge. If asking the question fails to elicit the proper response, maybe, slowly and imperceptibly, the question will go away, and we can return to civilized exchanges like this:

"Hi, Eric."

"Hi, John."

That sounds nice.