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University News

‘How Are You?’ Set to Be Banned in Three Counties of The UK

by Ruthlessly Roving Reporter Miss Deakina Andrea Kirkhamia

The local authorities of three counties of in the north of the UK are set to ban the conversational opener ‘How are you?’ after disturbing new evidence has come to light regarding the potentially highly damaging effects of its ambiguity.

Wildonshire, Detshire and Shireshire, all in the north of England, were pilot counties for research into effects of the apparently harmless, indeed neutral-friendly, opening gambit common throughout the English-speaking world: ‘How are you?’ Associate Professor Jane-Maxine McJane, who led the project, let us in on the key findings. “So anyway,” she began in a lilting West Country accent, reminiscent perhaps of what the average, educated reader takes as the default go-to dialect for a Thomas Hardy novel, “after several controlled studies in the relevant counties and follow-up interviews, we concluded that ‘How are you?’ is dangerously underdetermined as a conversational opener. The ambiguity centres around the denotation of ‘you’ What is the ‘you’ to whom the question is addressed? What aspect or aspects of the addressee’s identity are in play? Does it refer to the addressee’s emotional state? And if so, how is that to be determined or indeed accessed in the moment? Or does it connote the addressee as citizen of the state and imply that the answer should reference his or her alignment or otherwise with the predominant socio-culture? We just don’t know!”

Prof to the J, as she insisted on being called, merrily chirped on, finally concluding with the observation that the ambiguities of the phrase have been calculated to be conversationally demotivating to the extent that there is a greater than pure chance probability that interlocutors, on leaving any conversation that began thus, are significantly less economically productive for a period of time up to 24 hours after the initial utterance of the ‘How are you?’ It is for this reason that the UK counties are trialling a ban on the use of the phrase. Punishments include an on-the-spot fine up to three years’ imprisonment listening to a looped track of Donald Duck screaming ‘How are you?’

The research follows hot on the heels of recent findings focussing on the interpretation of ‘I’m fine’, which is the standard reply to ‘How are you?’ The study concluded that 78% of such utterances were effectively the interlocutors lying through their teeth in some desperate attempt to present a coherent, positive social face, when in fact they were far from ‘fine’, being, as we all are, in a state of ongoing terror and befuddlement, arising from the confusion, ambiguities and insecurities that are inherent in the fact of existence.

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