This post came out of a conversation I had with Anglophenia’s own MacKenzie Wilson, during which I managed to startle her by kicking off with what I stupidly assumed would be a universal hello. There followed a brief discussion of the exact origins of the term “alright?,” what it means and why it is not, just to pick an example out of thin air, a grumpy or exasperated way to check someone isn’t angry with you for something.
She wasn’t, since you ask. Nor should she have been.
But it did seem a good idea to offer this as a kind of pre-emptive peace treaty, should you ever find yourself being addressed by a British person using any of these five terms. Learn them well, and you’ll soon realise we’re actually quite nice, under the surface.
Bob (arriving in the pub): “Wotcha”
Sid: “Wotcha cocker. Fancy a drink?”
When you’re meeting someone, often the thing you want to ask them is how they are doing. You can jump straight in, wishing them a good morning and inquiring as to their health and general wellbeing, or if you are feeling less formal, you can go for one of the many slang terms which effectively mean the same thing. Wotcha is a great (if slightly out of date) example. It’s a mush-mouthed degradation of “what cheer?” which effectively asks if you’ve got any news, good or otherwise, to impart. It’s an extraordinarily familiar greeting, one you should never, under any circumstances, use on the Queen, or any of the Royal Family, should they ever visit your town. Not that it is in any way rude, just the kind of hair-ruffling hello you’d expect to be exchanged between Ron Weasley and his brothers.
Note: You wouldn’t answer wotcha with an actual description of how you are, it’s not a question any more.
Sheila (seeing Barbara in the street): “Hiya love”
Barbara: “Hiya, how’s it going?”
Not said, as you might assume, the way Miss Piggy used to say it to Kermit. This is a common hello in the North of England, especially around Manchester. Sadly, it’s a little too informal for some employers, as the people who work in the Manchester branch of Selfridges recently discovered. It’s used in much the same way that Americans use hi, albeit with a more singsong intonation. The two syllables being split across two notes in much the same way that children do when calling out ‘momm-ee.’ Be careful though, in the wrong mouth it can come across as a very limp and insincere greeting.
“Alright?” or “Alrigh’?”
Mark (arriving at work): “Alrigh’?”
Karen: “Alright?” (both look off into the middle distance, wishing they were still asleep)
A more direct and modern version of wotcha, albeit one which also does not require a direct answer. It has the same loutish undertones however. You basically want to use this when you can’t really be bothered to say hello with any enthusiasm, because you’re greeting someone you see every day, and while you are pleased to see them, the reason you are seeing them is because you’re both arriving at some mutual obligation, like a job or school. Or you’re both naturally quite dry people. It’s not a greeting to be used when meeting your girlfriend for the first time in a month, unless you’re doing it ironically, as a shared joke.
Seth (entering a greengrocers): “How do”
Shopkeeper: “Aye not so bad. What can I get for you?”
Another greeting from the North of England, and another inquiry which essentially needs no response, although you can give one if you keep it short and essentially positive. No one wants to know if you’re not having a very good day, unless they’re very nosy and you’re quite indiscrete. It’s a more formal hello than wotcha, and friendlier than alright, but still not one you’d use on visiting royalty. Think of it as an equivalent to howdy.
Amos (spotting the paperboy about to ride off): “Ayup son! Have you got my paper there?”
Paperboy: “Aye, sorry, I forgot I had it.”
An inquisitory hello, one which carries the presupposition that there is a pressing matter which will need to be discussed as soon as the pleasantries are out of the way. It’s the kind of hello you’d get from a shopkeeper or bartender, especially if they’re from north of Nottinghamshire. It does get used as another informal hello, but there’s a hint of hurry and bustle to it, albeit very friendly hurry, and cuddly bustle.
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