salutation (communication)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

salutation
"Deviate from conventional forms of greeting at your peril," cautioned Thomas E. Hill in 1873 (Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms). (Lucia Lambriex/Getty Images)

Definition

At the beginning of a conversation, letter, email, or other form of communication, a salutation is a polite greeting, an expression of good will, or other sign of recognition. Also called a greeting.

As Joachim Grzega points out in the article "Hal, Hail, Hello, Hi: Greetings in English Language History," "Salutation terms are an important part of a conversation--they tell the other 'I feel friendly toward you,' and they are maybe the start of a longer conversation" (Speech Acts in the History of English, 2008).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology
From the Latin, "health"
 

Examples and Observations
 

  • "There's more to the story," Alex announced. "Trust me."
    Katie hadn't heard him come up, and she stood.
    "Oh, hey," she said, blushing against her will.
    "How are you?" Alex asked.
    "Good." She nodded, feeling a bit flustered."
    (Nicholas Sparks, Safe Haven. Hachette Book Group, 2010)

     
  • J.D.: Greetings and salutations. You a Heather?
    Veronica Sawyer: No, I'm a Veronica.
    (Christian Slater and Winona Ryder in Heathers, 1988)

     
  • Cowboy: Howdy.
    Adam Kesher: Howdy to you.
    Cowboy: Beautiful evening.
    Adam Kesher: Yeah.
    (Monty Montgomery and Justin Theroux in Mulholland Dr., 2001)

     
  • How Are You (Ya)?
    "I bumped into an acquaintance. 'Hi Sally,' I said. 'How are you?' She paused and then stopped and said hello and how was I and how were the children and it was manifestly obvious she couldn't remember my name."
    (Philip Hesketh, How to Persuade and Influence People. Wiley, 2010)

    "The phone rang. 'O'Neil speaking.'
    "'Howdy, Pat. It's Mac.'
    "'Mac, how are ya? I was just thinkin' about ya. Great to hear from ya.'"
    (Jay Feldman, Suitcase Sefton and the American Dream. Triumph Books, 2006)

    "Listen to how [people] say, 'How are you?' They don't really say, 'How are you?' They say, 'How are ya?' . . . 'How are ya?' means 'Just say "good," and walk away. I don't really want to know. Register that I asked, then proceed not to tell me.'"
    (Paul Reiser, Couplehood, 1995)

     
  • How Ya Doin'?
    "Everyone seems friendly at first, everyone stops and asks, 'Hi, how ya doin'?' But after a while you realize that that's it, nothing ever follows up that 'Hi, how ya doin'?' And to answer that with anything less exuberant than, 'Pretty good,' is a social outrage. The creed is to be bright, brisk and busy."
    (Upamanyu Chatterjee, English, August: An Indian Story. Faber and Faber, 1988)


    "When you meet somebody at a post office, he or she says, 'How are you, how are you doing?' At Laguna, people will stand there and they'll tell you how they are doing. At Laguna, it's a way of interacting."
    (Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman. Simon and Schuster, 1997)

     
  • Hey!
    "Hey . . . is basically a synonym for hi--a friendly greeting. Until fairly recently, it was confined to the American South. The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) cites a 1944 survey as reporting that hey is 'the common term of familiar salutation of children and young people in most of the South; hello seems to them either semiformal or archaic. On many northern and western campuses the term is hi.' . . . 

    "But not anymore. . . . My sense is that among people under about 40 from all regions, hey for some time has been at least as popular as hi, and probably more so, and now seems completely unremarkable."
    (Ben Yagoda, "‘Hey’ Now." The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 6, 2016)
     
     
  • Brief Encounters
    "When persons 'accidentally' encounter one another, it appears, they may be at liberty to confine their remarks to an exchange of greetings (Goffman 1953:485 points out that length of salutation may depend 'on the period that had elapsed since the last salutation and the period that seemed likely before the next'; but a minimal exchange is possible); when there is a 'planned' or 'intended' encounter, more than a minimal pair is done."
    (Gene H. Lerner, Conversation Analysis: Studies From the First Generation. John Benjamins, 2004)

     
  • Register and Dialect
    "Salutations in business letters (Dear Ms. Portillo, Dear Sirs) differ from those in personal letters (Hey Ashley, Dear Devon). Every text--every piece of natural language--represents characteristics of both its situation and its speaker or writer; every text is simultaneously register and dialect."
    (Edward Finegan, "American English and Its Distinctiveness." Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-First Century, ed. by Edward Finegan and John R. Rickford. Cambridge University Press, 2004)

     
  • Email Greetings
    "E-mail has changed the rules of engagement. The language of business is evolving. Our old 'dears' are withering away, replaced in the top perch by 'hello,' 'hi' and 'hey.' . . .

    "'I'm fed up with people writing "Hi Jean" when they've never met me,' says etiquette guru Jean Broke-Smith.

    "'If you're sending a business e-mail you should begin "Dear . . ."--like a letter. You are presenting yourself. Politeness and etiquette are essential.' . . .

    "But why are so many of us culling 'Dear . . .' from our e-mails, even in the workplace? The simplest answer for its detractors is that it no longer says what it means, it feels cold and distant."
    (James Morgan, "Should E-mails Open With Dear, Hi, or Hey?" BBC News Magazine, Jan. 21, 2011)

     
  • The Lighter Side of Salutations
    "What ho!" I said.
    "What ho!" said Motty.
    "What ho! What ho!"
    "What ho! What ho! What ho!"
    After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.
    (P.G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves, 1919)