13 March 2020

Linguistics: Is everything alright?

For a liitle while now, I have noticed that letters from civil servants often begin "Good Morning".

'Allo 'Allo!

I'm not doing one of my usual moanings. This mode of address is miles, leagues, better than those ghastly letters and emails beginning "Dear John", from people with whom I was unaware that I was on 'Christian name' terms. Especially when I have never seen them and have no desire to graduate to 'Christian Name' terms with them. And "Dear Sir or Madam" does seem horribly laboured. And, like most English clerics, I wince almost out of my skin at "Dear Reverend" or "Dear Reverend Hunwicke". The propagation of this particularly nasty vocative is, I think, the one thing I resent most about the intrusion of American culture, especially that of Whispering Glades.

I'm just curious. When did "Good Morning" start? Is it another Americanism?

But here is a thing I really do dislike: being addressed (especially when with my wife) by waiters as"Guys". I was brought up to identify 'guys' as a masculine term ... but, I suppose, increasing numbers of the rising generation are unfamiliar with "Sir" and "Madam", or would dislike implicitly identifying themselves as being of the 'servant' class. "Guys" is breezy, friendly, informal, egalitarian, sexless. I loathe it. I suspect this is an Americanism. Yes?

Nor do I enjoy the imperative "Enjoy". Since when was it proper for servants to give orders? And even if one is a host at a dinner party, it is customary to wait for one's guests to gush about how 'enjoyable' they found the food one set before them.

Most of all, I dislike being interrupted by waiters or waitresses with "Is everything alright?" They do this (1) if they spot that some member of a party is imparting information or telling a story; an anecdote, perhaps ... or especially a joke which needs careful structuring to ensure that necessary information is imparted and the climax neatly delivered. Being 'Waiters' they wait and watch carefully; then, at the most disruptive moment possible in the narrative, they walk up and shout loudly at the entire table "Is everything alright, guys?" Nobody, clearly, has ever suggested to these dim, gormless, mannerless, and witless children that it is Bad Manners to interrupt anybody, but especially one's elders.

And (2) they do it when I am just at the point of leaning over a table for two and looking into my Wife's eyes. Savonarola was never such a puritan as Modern Youthful Waiting Persons; their ethical antennae simply cannot tolerate the possibility of Affection being openly displayed, in foro publico, between heterosexual persons around the age of eighty. One can almost hear them thinking "The disgusting old man ... I'd better go and put a stop to that ...".

The Waiting Community does clearly have Principles, God bless them. I always feel how well-qualified I am to give them intimate advice about where I would very much like them to put their Principles and how long I would urge them to keep them there.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Are there such beings as heterosexuals, homosexuals. lesbians, trannies etc or are there only men and women?


PDLeck said...

Today, you've written a blog post I could've written. Indeed, if I had a blog I'd almost certainly have written a similar post. My sentiments on this matter fully concur with you. I do believe, as you suspect, we have the United States of America to blame for these things. I wonder if you've ever experienced waiters and waitresses in Paris. They know the customer doesn't know best!

Colin Spinks said...

I understand that the "Is everything OK with your meal, guys" interjection is intended to come when one has eaten enough of the meal to notice if anything is wrong. That way, when we reply in typical British fashion "Lovely thank you" despite the food being burnt/uncooked/cold, they can legitimately claim, when we summon up the courage to complain later, that we have expressed satisfaction with the meal. (In a similar way we are all required to give our "consent" in sacraments such as Marriage and Ordination even if we secretly think it's a terrible idea) I wonder perhaps, in order further to implement congregational participation in accordance with Ecumenical Councils, such an exchange could be incorporated into the rite of receiving Communion? E.g. after receiving the host and before receiving the chalice, V: Satis est, amice? R: Ita vero, Rev.

david manly said...

I amanita sure which is worse, guys or folks

david manly said...

which is worse, guys or folks?

Banshee said...

Seriously? Not emails, but letters?

No, it is not an Americanism. I have never even seen it on an email. And it makes no sense, unless you have one of those Victorian postal systems that delivers mail several times a day.

Do civil servants send a lot of interoffice letters to their colleagues? If so, perhaps they can be confident that a 9 AM letter will be in a colleague's desk by 9:30, and the salutation "Good morning" might make sense. But still, that is against the rules of written salutations.

This is what happens when you get rid of professional secretaries and office clerks. Chaos.

Banshee said...

"Guys" is an Americanism, but very informal and often resented.

The proper American waitress pronoun is "hon," short for honey. It sounds creepy if waiters do it, and probably would sound really creepy from anybody English. This has the great advantage of being okay for persons of indeterminate sex.

The American waiter who likes tips usually avoids group terms for mixed sex tables. It would be more like, "Is everything all right, sir? Ma'am?" Or "Is everything all right? Do you need more water?"

It gets a bit more fraught with people offended by formal address (or even "hon"), but both men and women can use smiles and gestures to replace pronouns.

There are different theories on how much to leave tables alone to talk, but some restaurant managers insist that waiters check in with customers at least three times a meal (not counting ordering, meal delivery, and check), and they punish/counsel waiters who do not inquire all the time. I barely notice most of the time when I go out, but it is a thing.

Banshee said...

I do use "Enjoy," and I am interested to learn that someone doesn't like it.

But waiters in the US are not servants. (I can't really think of anybody who is, outside of live-in help, and that isn't really the same.) I guess if you were at a maid cafe in Japan, that would count. But they would make a point of calling you one of the Master terms, whereas a regular restaurant or store would call you "okyaku-sama" or "okyaku-san," which is basically "honored guest (commercial transaction version)."

Convenience stores in Japan use a simplified dialect of courtesy terms, developed by corporate executives for speed. (They sound a lot like the older terms but are quicker to pronounce.)

What are your views on "Bon appetit" or "Have a good dinner"?

Greyman 82 said...

Excellent post, Father, which certainly raised a smile. I agree with most of the points you make, but especially about being addressed by my Christian name by a stranger whom I've never met and whom I would never invite to address me in such a fashion.
The "Reverend Smith" error seems to originate in America and appears to be getting ever more common in Britain. I have almost given up trying to correct it, but when it appears in even the Telegraph there can be little hope of ever stemming the tide of Americanisation!
As for waiters/waitresses butting in at inopportune moments, I've never had much of a problem in that way. I usually regard a polite enquiry as to whether one's meal is satisfactory as a welcome sign of genuine concern for the diners' satisfaction and enjoyment.
Another thing one sometimes has to put up with is being asked "How are you today?" by the front-of-house greeter. I generally say "Oh fine" or something non-committal, but I feel like saying "How am I? I'm hungry - why else would I visit your establishment? Show me to a table please."

Matthew said...

And of course if they write it they spell it as you have done, Father, and not as "all right". Yet one more downward step on the descent to linguistic impurity.

Banshee said...

Most waiters and waitresses like to feel that they are allies of Cupid, and they are aware that happy couples are big tippers. So I am mystified that you have gotten interrupted during moments of romance, unless they mistook quiet for "they are bored."

It is possible that you got a spiteful waiter who was unlucky in love, and shortsighted enough not to seek solace in cash.

Ben of the Bayou said...

Father Hunwicke,

For the sake of the young set, would you kindly inform us. Which salutation(s) do you find appropriate and apt for such a reverend person as yourself and other clerics?

AndrewWS said...

I don't know about the habits of waitresses etc., but I did notice in a business environment, and still notice when people write emails to me about common business interests, that they tend to start their emails with "Good morning" or "Good evening" depending on the time of day.

I find myself accidentally getting into the habit of beginning all my emails with "Hello".

I suppose these salutations are friendly, informal, diverse, non-gender-specific, lacking in class-consciousness, and all the other things we're supposed to be these days.

Unknown said...

A waiter told me once that "they" wait until the victim has placed a forkful of sometime delicious in his mouth - then they pounce. My pet peeve, if I may, is when I thank someone for a service and he assure me "not a problem." I would hope it's not a problem to do what they are paid for - serve. God bless you and your wife, and keep you safe until the madness abates.

Frederick Jones said...

"How are you? I am good" is a not unusual interaction nowadays. I usually reply "Are you well as well as good".

E sapelion said...

"No problem", now morphed into "not a problem" comes I think from the USSR. Nyet problem (prablyem) was common because "eta problem" was such a common utterance, for example when the lady in charge of the tea urn had reached her quota of tea for the week.

John Nolan said...

You can't order a pint these days without the barman saying 'no worries'. Don't blame the yanks - this expression has antipodean origins.

Zephyrinus said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke.

Always a good response, to such banal intrusions at the Dinner Table, is to retort (in Hungarian): “NAGYON JÓ”.

That, generally, ensures no further interruptions.

Unless, of course, the Waiter happens to be Hungarian.

In which case, Google a lot of responses (in Hungarian) prior to sitting down to Dinner.

Mariana said...

'Guys' and 'you guys' - definitely an Americanism. I was completely baffled when, in America, my husband and I were addressed as 'you guys'. To 'have a nice day' I've always wanted to reply 'thank you, but I have made other plans', but have been too timid, and have just seethed and smiled.

neilmac said...

Much as I, too, dislike the "Enjoy" employed by waiters and others, perhaps, we might just allow that instead of regarding it as an imperative, we see it as a type of subjunctive - equivalent to "May you enjoy - as we possibly do with "Goodbye" and "Have a blessed Easter", etc.

Neill said...

I wonder if the "Good Morning" start to correspondence comes from members of the Pakistani diaspora in the UK or is influenced by them? Here in Pakistan one is accustomed to hearing "salaam aleikum" as the invariable beginning of anything and everything: speeches, letters, emails, texts. When speaking English the salaam is often replaced by "Good morning", although it does not have the same meaning, "peace be with you" not being idiomatic in English. This sometimes carries over into bizarre usage. For example, at an English-medium school farewell ceremony to which I was invited the head girl began her speech with " Good morning" even though it was 5 pm. At Holy Trinity Cathedral, Karachi (Church of Pakistan, a pan-Protestant set up, including Anglicans) it is not unusual to hear "Good morning" from the readers of the scriptures before they announce the text, showing that this idea has penetrated beyond the Muslim majority where it originated. Incidentally, I am glad to report that "Good morning" never precedes the readings at the local Catholic parish of St Anthony where the lectors are very well trained.

Scribe said...

Dear Father, The friendly and very committed young waiter at a hotel that I frequent deposits the meal in front of me with 'There you go!' He's such a nice lad that it's impossible to take offence. My Saturday paperboy, defeated by the immensity of the Daily Telegraph, rings the bell, hands me the offending paper, and says, 'Have a nice day.' Father,I'm sure you can remember the appalling waiters and waitresses of the 1950s, who hovered around their 'stations', watching the customers signalling desperately for a fork or whatever, while the indifferent food got cold. The arrival of Spanish waiters in the sixties and seventies - people who were proud of their profession - mercifully changed all that.

GOR said...

On the occasions I write an actual letter these days (mostly to dispute a charge or file a complaint) I lean towards: “To Whom It May Concern”, though if I wish to be even more supercilious I may resort to: “Dear Sir or Madam” (that’ll show them!).

I’m afraid the courtesy of not interrupting the conversations of others is lost these days especially in the world of dining. Over familiarity in address is likewise a thing of the past, unfortunately. But, while “You guys” merely grates on the ears, in certain area of New York and New Jersey being addressed as “Youse guys” might have a more ominous connotation...

james said...

On the subject of 'Good morning': I think it is simply because all the alternative openings to letters are unavailable for one reason or another. The office might well not hold information on their correspondents' sexes, so 'Dear Mr', 'Dear Ms', 'Dear Sir' and 'Dear Madam' are all blocked. Even if they do, the persons addressed might have changed their gender recently and so be offended if the wrong form is adopted. 'Dear Sir or Madam', besides being stilted and impersonal, still fails to deal adequately with individuals who are now 'non-binary' and so reject forms of address characteristic of either sex. That leaves 'Dear [given name]', which I rather like but many (especially but not exclusively older) people don't.

'Good morning', while slightly absurd in a letter, is probably the best response the English language can give to the inherently contradictory demand for a polite form of address that is less impersonal than 'To whom it may concern' but does not imply any knowledge of the recipient's, well, person. And is it really so much sillier than 'Dear Sir or Madam', with its suggestion that a person whose sex is unknown to the writer is nonetheless beloved?