Here’s an analogy: In Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion, a healthcare official being harassed by a venal blogger blurts: “Blogging isn’t writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.” OK, I don’t entirely agree with him, but that’s beside the point. He’s talking about the good that comes from considering how you say what you say, about the happy synergy of discipline and communication.
My problem with “hey,” I guess, is that it doesn’t tell me much. I like considered variety, which to me is real democracy in action. Everyone gets what fits, from “Hi, kiddo” for someone I’m trying to cheer up to “Dear First-and-Last Name,” because for me the standard honorifics all fall short, and what if a stranger has a genderless name like Dana? A friend calls me her “little chicken,” which might not sound like much of a compliment to you, but I wear it like wings; it’s mine and mine alone.
I say, have a little fun. Make a conscious choice. Be a true rebel, tied neither to the old nor the new. Try “Excuse me, So-and-So, do you have a moment to talk?” Or use a title for starters and wait for the gracious, “Oh, just call me Mike.”
I’ve waited for years for a language expert to identify the person I think of as Speaker Zero, that teen (probably female, given the way this has played out) who first tilted her sentences to rise in inquiry at the end and spawned a trend big enough to have a name — uptalk — and virulent enough to have infected the occasional big-issue sound bite. But language moves fast, in waves, and by the time somebody with a research grant gets interested in “hey,” it will surely have been replaced by the next greeting du jour.
My imagination doesn’t stretch far enough to guess what that will be. I’ll settle for being grateful if, unlike bell-bottoms, the Stallonian “yo” never gets a second chance.