The only way we can get people to stop asking, "How are you?", is to start telling them. Begin with a description of how difficult it was to get out of bed this morning and then move onto the letter you got today with the sad news that a close relative had died and then your trip to the vet with a sick dog and then..........Well, you get the idea.
I can't recall when it started. but I few years ago I noticed while walking my dog people would often pass and say, "How are you?" and keep on walking, not waiting for an answer. On talk radio, a genial host would answer a phone call with, "How are you?, Sarah, I see you're not in complete agreement with Bill, our last caller......and on and on." We never found out how Sarah or Bill or anybody else was feeling. For all we know one of them could have dropped dead after hanging up the phone.
We've got to start somewhere so let's give talk show hosts the chance to stop this annoying habit. I was listening to Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder on WGN Radio the other morning between 10 and noon, and lost track of the times Bill came up with the old, "How are you?", knowing full well he wasn't going to wait for an answer. Try calling the show and the minute Bill asks, "How are you?, start to tell him. Exaggerate a little, just to make it fun and see what happens. The call-in number is 312-981-7200.
I read an article by Alexandra Petri last fall in which she pointed out just what a terrible greeting "How are you?" is. She writes, "It's basically one step removed from a rhetorical question. Unlike a rhetorical question which you not supposed to answer, "How are you?" is a question you are supposed to answer only one way: "Fine" or "Good!" or "Great" or "Excellent!" or "Well!" if you're a stickler for adverbs. In the annals of Questions that Actually Demand an Honest Answer, it's right up there with "Does this (item of clothing) make me look fat?" "Who's the fairest of them all?" and "Am I not a great, just emperor?" She also points that "What's Up?" and "How's it going?" are two more Questions Whose Answers We Are Not Interested in Hearing. Although "What's Up?" offers a slight advantage because some people respond, "The Sky!!!!!" or "Infant mortality!" so you instantly know to remove those people from your circle.
How did this all start? It may go back to 1604 and my favorite author, William Shakespeare. In Othello Desdemona asks her husband, "How is't with you, my lord?" and Othello replies, "Well, my good lady." Five scenes later he murders her.
Filed under: Opinion