Monday, July 6, 2009

The Chinese fixed my biggest pet peeve

Ni Hao. 你好.

China has officially solved one of my largest pet peeves.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks the platitude "How're ya doing?" as a greeting ranks tremendously high on the list of social interactions that shouldn't exist.

Even though it is often clear when someone does or doesn't actually want an answer, some people just don't get it. These people launch into a diatribe about their shitty landlord, their sports team or god knows what else is on their tiny little mind.

China's solution is simple and elegant. Their general greeting "Ni Hao" literally means "you good".

But that's no solution Marc!? That creates the exact same problem!

That's where you are wrong, my fair reader.

In Chinese (Mandarin at least) a sincere query into one's well-being is followed by a word that makes it into a question (ma, 吗).

That causes:
1: "Ni Hao (你好)" to mean "hello", while
2: "Ni Hao Ma (你好吗)" translates to a "how are you doing?"

Because of this, I propose changing the way it works in English:
1: "How are you doing?" means "hello", but
2: "How are you actually doing be I have a real and true interest in your current state of affairs" means "tell me anything personal beyond responding with a polite hello and nodding".

That should work. Right?

Side note: Remember how I mentioned that Chinese Characters are combinations of other characeters? The word that signifies a question "ma, 吗" is actually the word HORSE and the word MOUTH smushed into one character. I have no idea why.