Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where do these expressions come from?

The evolution of the English language is a source of endless fascination. One intriguing trend is the tendency to attach superfluous words to everyday expressions such as greetings.

“Bye now”, for example. Where on earth did that come from? Or “Hi there”? What do the words “now” and “there” add?

Both expressions have a folksy ring that suggests American origins. It can only be a matter of time before we begin addressing women as “ma’am” (a la John McCain) and men as “sir”, or urging people to “y’all take care now”.

Which brings me to another example: “you have a good day”, or “you take care”. If the statement is addressed by one person to another, as it invariably is, what purpose is served by that word “you”? Who else could the solicitous expression refer to, other than the person spoken to?

Another source of endless fascination is why these things get up our noses – but they do. This last one irritates the hell out of me, though I couldn’t explain why.

Bye now, and y’all take care.


Bearhunter said...

The phrase "bye now" is everyday speech in Ireland and I could hazard a guess that that's where it came from. Much of Hiberno-English (to give it its rather high-falutin' title) differs from standard English in the way sentences are constructed, having descended from translating Gaelic sentence structures into English. Slan go foill is a standard Gaelic farewell and means loosely "goodbye for now", so I imagine "Bye now" is a further contraction.

Nicola Young said...

'Ma'am' is already well entrenched in New Zealand shops and restaurants; it may have escaped your attention, as it's unlikely anyone's used it in your direction! Actually, speaking as a recipient, I rather like it - it's polite, pleasing on the ear (the New Zealand accent is kinder on 'a', unlike 'i' and 'e') and rather neutral (unlike 'madam' which can only be described as hilarious - or very job-specific!).

The other problem with "you" is that it's morphing into 'youse'. I'd rather be called ma'am (or even 'madam') than the dreadful 'youse'.