All right?

I've been meaning to blog about the British greeting All right?* or You all right? in part because I wanted to get feedback on whether I'm responding correctly, since it is something that flummoxes Americans (and New Zealanders too, it seems). Then this happened in my Intercultural Communication class on Friday:

I was talking about the different parts of a conversation, starting with the opening, and mentioning along the way some of the ways in which the rituals differ in different cultures. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Like the British greeting All right? That confuses Americans--we don't know how to respond.

American Exchange Student: Wait, how do you respond?

Me: Let's try.  (addressing a group of English students in one corner)  All right?

English students (as one):  All right.

English student 1:  You know, it's like if Americans said You okay?

AmExSt: No, it's not. If you say You okay? to me, it means you think I look lost or upset and you're offering to help. So all these people have been saying You all right? to me and I've been thinking "What am I doing wrong? Why do they think I'm lost?"

[sound of a number of pennies dropping (variation on a BrE expression)]



So, it turns out that my strategy of replying All right or All right, and you? is acceptable. Phew.

A difference related to these different interpretations of you all right/okay? is that if you look lost in public in the US, someone will almost certainly come up to you and offer their help/directions (possibly with You okay?). In my experience, all you have to do in New York is open a map, and some local will ask to help.  (I recall this happening on a subway platform and Better Half exclaiming that that would never happen in London.)

In the south of England, if you're lost and want help, you generally have to (get up the courage and pick the right stranger and) ask for help. Or stay lost, which may be preferable. An exception to this generalization would be if the stranger had some official role that makes it acceptable to address someone and offer help. It's not that help is never offered, but you certainly can't count on it. I would not be surprised to hear that this is less true in other parts of the UK, since one thing the southerners have a reputation for is not talking to strangers.


It feels to me like All right? as a greeting is getting more and more common--though the OED has examples of it going back to 1868. (Maybe I was just oblivious to it for a while.) It also feels somewhat masculine to me. I think far more men greet me this way than women, and it is often  followed by the mostly masculine address term mateAll right, mate?  There may be generational things going on here too--perhaps younger people of both sexes use it more? (Let me know.)




*A lot of people on the internet are writing this as Alright? Not how the dictionaries spell it--and, of course, a frequent misspelling in a lot of contexts.


67 comments

  1. I lived in Scotland for five years and eventually picked this greeting up. I think the opposite side of this greeting is the American greeting "What's up?" None of my Scottish friends ever knew how to respond to me when I said that until I asked how i was supposed to respond to "All right?" After that we all understood each other.

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  2. I've only ever seen it spelled "alright"...

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  3. Have not heard of this All Right. Wondering if it's similar to the Boston "all set? all set."

    In Boston, directions are to be had from strangers at very little provocation, a poor map, a confused look, and they'll direct, bring out their own map, or walk you to your destination. Am/E.

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  4. Perhaps because I am a woman, I rarely came across this greeting until I moved to Cumbria in 1999.
    It doesn't sound quite the same when spoken in a broad Cumbrian accent. It sounds as if they really want to know! So it took me a while before I worked out the proper response.
    Talking of needing directions in London, a friend reported that he was trying to ask which side of the road he needed to catch a bus into the centre of London, and everyone he asked ran away from him!

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  5. I have "All right" filed in my head as an entirely different lexical item to "Alright"- the latter being a common greeting. Tone is very important here because if say it in the same way as you would say "Hello" then the addressee can respond with any kind of generic greeting, if you preface it with "[Are] You" or use a high rise final/ put a question mark on it, then it's almost certainly a question and I'm looking for a Yes/No response at the very least.

    Other cultural equivalents include the Irish "What's the story?"; Jamaican "What you saying?"; and the one I struggle with, Scottish (especially Glaswegian?)"How're you doing?"
    Not forgetting the classic and unanswerable "How do you do?"

    As a twenty-something English woman, I can't say I've ever noticed a gender or particular age bias in use of 'Alright', but I have mainly worked in service industry and manual jobs, so there could well be a class factor.

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  6. I think the response to "how do you do?" is "how do you do?". My husband and I traveled by bicycle all over England in the late 80's and found people unfailingly friendly and helpful everywhere we went.

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  7. I agree that "alright" is a different word than "all right" in AmE too, with different meanings and uses and pronunciation/intonation and everything, and the dictionary should really get on this. But I'd be confused by it as a greeting too. I remember being asked "Are you all right?" by shop-people in Ireland (i think) and, even after I picked up that it was just the normal thing for them to ask, being upset that they might be thinking I was looking lost and distressed.
    Also, I was standing on a street corner in (a non-touristy corner of) chicago looking slightly lost earlier today (I wasn't sure where the store I was going to was), and someone stopped to ask me if I needed directions. Lest anyone doubt that this is something that happens regularly.

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  8. In my experience, all you have to do in New York is open a map, and some local will ask to help.

    Just this weekend I was on the train going uptown from Whitehall (so, you know, we were in Manhattan) and as we got to City Hall the person next to me remarked, in a British accent "Welcome to Brooklyn".

    When I pointed out in some concern that she was not in Brooklyn she was stuck in the awkward position of saying she was "taking the piss" with her friend. She hadn't expect anybody to help her if she was lost, I guess.

    I'm just glad she wasn't :)

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  9. I had no idea that this was weird until this year, when I made an Australian friend who was among English/Scottish people for the first time. He finally cracked after a few days and cried, "Why do you all think I look sick???" This took some sorting out before the penny dropped.

    Conversely, we couldn't get used to his habit of saying "How are you going?", which we all somehow consistently heard as "Where are you going?", to much confusion.

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  10. I find this is a common form of greeting from shop assistants, and it never seems appropriate. If I ask someone 'All right?' I mean 'Have you managed to do what what you wanted to do?' and if I ask 'Are you all right?' I'm asking the other person if she feels well, in other words, about her health or wellbeing. I don't expect shop assistants to ask after my health when I'm clearly either going to buy something or about to ask for assistance. What they should say is 'Good morning/afternoon' or 'Hello' or 'Can I help you'. I have actually said to one - when I had been waiting to be served - 'No. I'm not' but that was impolite on my part, I can see.

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  11. I think it's a bit more complex. "Alright?" or, I think I'd spell it "All right?' would always be an appropriate response. But where the only permitted response to "How d'you do?" is "How d'you do?" responses to "All right?" can vary a bit I find.

    If it's someone you don't know beyond that, "All right?" back is fine. If it's someone you do know better but you're just passing, you see each other on the street say, then it's also fine. But if it's someone you see regularly, even if you don't really know them - Tom Dawkes' example of shop assistants where you shop there regularly and you know each other by name perhaps, or the bar staff at your local, where you're going to be potentially stood there for a few minutes - you can choose to take it as a conversational gambit. They don't actually want to know, usually, about your sciatica, your marital problems, you latest STD or whatever, but there's socially acceptable moaning about the boss, the weather and the like.

    If you know them better you can bemoan the latest sports results or whatever (Wayne Barnes is a terrible referee and that last try should never have been allowed!).

    And if it's a close friend it can be just a jumping off point for whatever.

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  12. I'm from the South of England, and my native version of this greeting is 'Alright?'. (I spell it with one 'l' there, though I remember being corrected for that when I was at (BrE) primary / (AmE) elementary school more than 30 years ago.) When I moved to the North of England, I had one particular colleague who would say 'You alright?'. It was a general greeting - she meant the same as I meant when I said 'Alright?' - but I never got over the feeling that, when she said 'You alright?', she meant I looked like I wasn't.

    Living in the USA, I had the same problem others have described with 'What's up'. I still don't really know the answer to that.

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  13. Also:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX0o-F4PYnU

    This is a sketch featuring UK comic Catherine Tate's character Lauren Cooper, a caricature of a London schoolgirl. (She's the red-haired one.) At 0'31" a new teacher (David Tennant) comes into the class and says 'Morning!'. The class's universal response is 'Alright?' (said in the right intonation for her social group, as well).

    A lot more videos of the character can be found by Googling

    catherine tate "all right" (or "alright", I suppose).

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  14. I think the American equivalent to this phrase is "How's it going?" Both phrases, on the surface, appear to be an inquiry into the listener's well-being, but really are only a way to say hello. And the expected response ("Good" or "OK") is also equivalent, since the first speaker probably isn't genuinely inquiring into your well-being, and you should, therefore, humor him and just indicate that all is well.

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  15. When I first moved to the N. Riding I used to be worried by the greeting "Now then", which sounded like "Now then....", as though the speaker had something on me.

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  16. Very common on Merseyside, esp in the phrase 'Aright dere la' ('Hello there young fellow')

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  17. I've heard this in Ireland, but mostly from UK speakers – generally male and in casual situations. I have the impression the Supergrass hit song 'Alright' gave it a mid-'90s boost, at least among a certain fashionable subset.

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  18. "All right?" or "Alright?" wasn't used much when I grew up in Coventry in the 70s & 80s so it still feels a little bit odd to me. It was a greeting I was vaguely familiar with but when I started working at Notts Police HQ it was the ONLY greeting that anyone used, making me feel that everyone was on the brink of falling apart and were just checking that their colleagues literally were OK.
    My dad's side of the family come from Bedworth / Nuneaton (just north of Coventry) and it's like a different language. Greetings were usually "A'do", similar to Yorkshire "Ay' up", but meaning 'how are you doing?' and answered with another "A'do".
    When I lived in Hull "Now then" was pretty common and took some getting used to. Another Nottinghamshire greeting I've heard a few times is "What do you know?" which, when you're as much into general knowledge as me, can be a dangerous question.
    Greetings - they're a bloody minefield!

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  19. Not directly on point for this post, but since it arose here:

    I don't think the sense of pennies dropping in "sound of a number of pennies dropping" is one that exists in my idiolect. The meaning seems obvious from context, but in that type of situation, I would probably use some variation of "lightbulbs came on" instead. Is that reference to dropping pennies typical in any AmE dialect?

    (I looked for previous discussion here, but could not find any.)

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  20. You're right, of course, Doug. I've added a dialect label for it in the post. Thanks!

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  21. I (BrE, 40s) don't recall having heard "all right" as a greeting until I moved to Birmingham (where they pronounce it "owroight?"). It confused me for ages until I realised I just needed to say "alright" (definitely one word for me in this context) in reply.
    I don't think I hear/use it so much now I live in Scotland, either.

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  22. I'm with Dan Jones on his observation that "How's it going?" is the American equivalent to "All right?", with the proviso that this greeting is used only in informal situations. I also suspect that "How's it going?" marks the speaker generationally, since I'm not certain it's still in use among young people. If we're talking about African Americans, their version of "How's it going?" these days is "'s'up?" (pronounced "sup?"), a severe contraction of "What's up?" In the late '60s and early '70s "What's happening?" made a brief appearance as an informal greeting, and the Latin-American stoner comics Cheech & Chong made the Spanish version of "What's happening?" -- "Qué pasa?", except elongated luridly (and voiced) into "Qué passssssssaaaaaaa?" -- even more briefly popular with young people who wanted to seem hip to the drug scene.

    I was intrigued that "What do you know?" is apparently in use in some parts of the UK, because it struck me that a variant -- "Hey, Joe, what do you know?" -- might have been heard in my parents' time in the US. I little Googling turned up lyrics from an Andrews Sisters'song, coincidentally titled "Well All Right", that begins like this:

    Well hello Joe, what do you know
    I just got back from a vaudeville show


    And it turns out the question "What do you know?" became the title of a '50s/'60s quiz show in the UK, which, it seems to me, would naturally have led this question to stick, at least for a while, as a popular greeting.

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  23. BTW: Lynne, you can "include me out" as someone who also had no idea what your "sound of pennies dropping" meant. I, too, understood it in context ... but I feel pretty certain I've never heard anyone use it here in the US.

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  24. I lived in the NE of England for 10 years and 'All right?' as a greeting came from men and women working in shops, pubs, taxis, and so forth, and often was followed by 'pet', 'flower', or 'petal' (I'm female, and American). Acceptable answers, ie ones that did not get second looks, included 'Good/yes/fine, thanks,' or something weather-related ('lovely day' or 'bit chilly out.'). Now I live in Toronto and the equivalent answers to similar question (eg 'how are you?' or 'how's things?) seem to be a) positive: 'it's all good' or b) negative: 'It is what it is'. Not sure if they mean the weather, or what.

    In West Java, where I lived for a time, the similar casual greeting on the street was 'Where are you going?' (Mau ke mana?) or 'Where are you coming from?" (Dari mana?), in a sort of plaintive tone. At first I gave detailed replies ('I am going to school and then to the market') but after encountering surprised looks, I learned that one simply replies 'to the west' (ke barat) or 'from the north' (dari udara), etc.

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  25. PS error in my previous comment :'utara' not 'udara'

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  26. Dick,
    You can hear "¿Qué pasa?" and, between cronies, "¿Qué passssssssaaaaaaa?" quite often around here. Most people feel a bit uncomfortable when they are greeted like that, because they (me included) can’t think of an appropriate reply –cronies usually answer ¡Heeeeeeyyyyyyy!

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  27. Emilio: can I assume you live in or around Los Angeles? If not, where do you live? (Just curious.)

    It's funny that ¡Heeeeeeyyyyyyy! is the answer to "¿Qué passssssssaaaaaaa?", because a moment ago I was trying to figure out what my 18-year-old daughter says to me when she gets home from school and concluded it's the very basic, not quite satisfactory "Hey." (I recall long ago watching an Ingmar Bergman movie and being amused to hear Liv Ullmann greet someone with "Hey" [it turns out that in Swedish it's actually spelled "hej"] as the subtitles dutifully translated this word as "Hello".)

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  28. Oops! Sorry, Emilio: before asking where you live I should have clicked on your name's Google+ link. I see you live in Córdoba, España. So I guess "Qué pasa?" is a little more internationally used among Spanish speakers than I thought! ;)

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  29. Talk about perfect timing. I work in New England for a global support organization. This morning, I was in the middle of reading this article when I received a call from a british colleague who started the conversation with, "'Ello, Toby. All right?"

    I would have been at a complete loss as to how to answer her five minutes earlier.

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  30. Dick: This place, Córdoba (Spain), can be quite strange at times but it certainly isn’t very international, so I wouldn’t assume that what I normally see or hear around me is what normal people may call “normal”;)

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  31. I had a similar reaction to the greeting "You all right?" when I moved to the UK from Philadelphia 10 years ago. I initially thought people were asking me what was wrong, as though I looked anxious, miserable or confused! "Everything's fine, actually. But thanks for asking!"

    Now, when greeting people here, I seem to have combined the UK "all right?" with the standard Philadelphian greeting, "How you doing?" (Or "How you doo-in?", as it tends to sound, and which I think has pretty much the same meaning/function.)

    "How you doin'? You all right?"

    :)

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  32. Emilio: so where are you from originally? Your written English, at least what little of it I've seen here, is immaculate ... so I'm guessing you're not actually from Córdoba, are you? Or are you?

    Steve: I can't think of "How you doin'?" without thinking of the hit American sit-com of the '90s Friends, which appeared eventually to try to attract a UK audience by having one of its 4 lead characters, Ross (played by David Schwimmer), visit England with his friends to be married to his English fiancée, Emily (played by Helen Baxendale; Emily's parents were played by Tom Conti and Jennifer Saunders). As you may recall one of Ross's friends, Joey, who's a dim-witted but good-looking Italian-American New Yorker, beguiles an attractive young English woman with his Americanisms -- the most exotic and intoxicating to her being nothing more than Joey's suggestively phrased "How you doin'?"

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  33. It took me a long time after living in France to get the response to "ça va?" right. At one level it's easy: you say "ça va; ça va?", but the problem is that although the words are the same the intonation is quite different.

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  34. "You all right?"
    "Yeah, I'm all right. You all right?"

    It's a bit like "How do you do?", to which I was taught that the correct response is also "How do you do?", although I am sure that, as a greeting, it is pretty much obsolescent, if not obsolete. But the point is the speaker doesn't actually want a detailed answer to the question.....

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  35. I had the exact same problem in reverse with "What's up?", "What's going on?", etc., when I first moved to the US (late 90s).

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  36. I say this all the time! Something like "Hi, y'alright?" Could be a class thing as someone mentioned above. I'm in a professional job but live in a working class area. Everybody says "all right/alright" around here (South East). However, when working I'd say "Morning" or "Hello" with a smile!

    Generational? Perhaps, slightly. I think my Mum would say "Hello, are you all right?".

    I'm in my late thirties, from London originally if that's of any interest...

    And yes, you just reply with another " alright?" and keep walking!

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  37. I am reminded that in one of Elizabeth Goudge's books - can't remember what it is called, but it is the first of the Eliots of Damerosehay series - the grandmother and (adult) grandson greet each other with "Are you all right?" which they instigated when said grandson returned from boarding-school and did not, I think, wish to appear overly sentimental.

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  38. I (South BrE, mid-50's) have never really consciously heard "alright?" as a greeting, and certainly never used it. I think that means it is definitely generational -- and people know it so they don't even use it to me. I suspect the Catherine Tate sketch mentioned above shows that -- if it was common adult usage at that time it wouldn't have been funny.

    It is quite likely also regional, and in some parts of the country it might have been commonly used for much longer -- but not anywhere I have lived.

    If someone said it to me wouldn't really know how to reply: I would probably just say "yes" (or "yeah" or "yep" -- does anyone under 50 say that any more?). Although I wouldn't interpret as a serious enquiry about my health: that would be "are you all right?" (a different word, with a gap between "all" and "right").

    [P.S. the captcha just asked me to click on all images with waffles -- we clearly have a serious disagreement about what a waffle is :-) I suspect that is an AmE/BrE difference as well]

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  39. W/r/t helping lost people: from my (British) perspective, just because someone is clearly a tourist doesn't make it any less impolite to accost them in the street without being asked (and as someone who enjoys finding their way around foreign cities with a map, I resent the most efficient route being imposed on me).

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  40. "'How're you going mate, all right?" is a very traditional New Zealand greeting. I don't see how a Kiwi would be flummoxed by shortening it.

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  41. @ Dick Hartzell

    Dick: I love you. I’m afraid I am indeed originally from Córdoba, and I have spent all my life here, but I grew up watching American films and, as some of these were quite strange, I eventually became a sort of alienated hybrid dreamer, which means a real freak. But I’m harmless, I can assure you.

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  42. I agree "alright" is a greeting, "you all right" is a question (the gap is spoken) but it is also a class marker. It is not all right for a middle class adult to say "alright".

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  43. A couple of years ago I went on my gap year to England (from Australia) where I was a volunteer in a place in Hampshire. The first few days I remember myself and another girl (also from Australia) being really confused when people said "you alright?" thinking that we must have looked really sad or something so replying with "yeah I'm fine" or similar. After a few days we kind of realized that it was a greeting like "how's it going?" and not actually a comment on how we looked!

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  44. 'A number of pennies dropping' - clearly for each person in the seminar group, enlightenment dawned, as if a 'penny had dropped' for each person. This is a general metaphor in BrE, and for women of a certain age it brings back memories of the device on the door of each cubicle in a public lavatory - the door could not open until a penny had been inserted - hence the phrase 'to spend a penny', when one wishes to use the loo. Of course, it was almost de rigeur to hold the door open for the next person, and thus subvert the system.

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  45. And the lightbulb moment is a visual gag that must have arrived with strip cartoons ... and definitely after lightbulbs were invented!

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  46. I associate the delayed dropping of a penny more with telephone boxes.

    According to a mechanism that few on this blog will have experienced, you

    • walked into the box
    • lifted the receiver and listened for a dialling tone to show that a connection was possible
    • placed some pennies (four in my day) into the slot
    • dialled the number and listened

    If and and when the other party answered, you pressed button B. This cause the pennies to drop, thus creating a connection. If nobody answered, or if it was clearly a wrong number, you pressed button A and got your money back.

    This procedure was for local calls. For trunk (AmE long distance) calls, you dialled the operator and told her the number you wanted to call. She told you to put a certain sum in the slot and stared 'trying to connect you caller'. If and when the connection was established she would say Go ahead caller and the coins were dropped. I think you pressed button B for the first drop, but as I remember it you could put extra coins in which would drop when your initial time ran out.

    I believe there were earlier penny in the slot machines with this delaying mechanism for the next penny.

    The metaphor of the penny dropped was that something was activated after a delay.

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  47. When the pennies dropped in a telephone box, you lost your money. Hence the dilemma in the wonderful song of the time.

    (British dials allowed you enter letters — whence Dial M for Murder. Usually this was for the first three letters of a mechanised local exchange such as PRImrose. A pro was stand g=for a prostitute.)

    THE TELEPHONE SONG by Sydney Carter

    Standing alone in the damp and the dark
    Of a filthy old phone box in Finsbury Park
    I dialed Fremantle they give me a FRO,
    I asked for a Primrose, they give me a PRO.

    CHORUS
    So, Say who you are, love, and not 'Hello'
    Give me your name and give me your number.
    Say who you are, love, and not 'Hello'
    If I press button 'A' all my pennies will go.

    My mother is waiting at Lancaster Gate,
    I promised to phone at a quarter to eight.
    I've done all the things that they tell me to do
    But instead of my mother I keep getting you.

    There's many the girl that I've got to know
    Through a fault on the line of the GPO,
    I'd do it again but it wouldn't be right.
    I promised to telephone mother tonight.

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  48. PS.
    The GPO was the General Post Office, which was originally responsible for British telephones (except in the city of Hull).

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  49. I agree "alright" is a greeting, "you all right" is a question (the gap is spoken) but it is also a class marker. It is not all right for a middle class adult to say "alright".

    Interestingly, in the US young African Americans have adopted a peculiar pronunciation of the words "all right", essentially eliminating the l and r sounds entirely so the result is something like "ahh-ite". In movies it typically appears in the expression "You ahh-ite" as a gag line when one character addresses another who's just taken a terrible pratfall (and is clearly not all right).

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  50. I'm from New Jersey and "How're you doing (or how is it going), all right?" sounds unremarkable to me as a greeting. I'm sure I've heard it before. It's just a more wordy version of "How're you doing?". Wouldn't know what to do with a bare "all right" though.

    Then again, I've long perceived answering "you bet" to "thank you" as rude, but I hear it from Minnesota all the time.

    Re: penny dropping, I'm familiar with the term, not sure from where, but I've always thought it had some sort of parallel to the other shoe dropping (as in "waiting for the other shoe to drop"), though don't really know the origin of either expression.

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  51. My experience of shoes dropping was from living in an apartment. When the upstairs neighbor went to bed, he removed one shoe and dropped it with an audible thunk on his floor. If he then didn't immediately drop the other shoe, the anticipation was disconcerting.

    Worse for me was an upstairs neighbor child who occasionally dropped a marble, which resulted in a "tik-tik-tik-tk-tk-kkkk-roll" sound ... unless he caught the marble on a bounce. Again, the unfulfilled expectation was a problem.

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  52. Online sources state that waiting for the other shoe to drop meant exactly what Doug describes. So metaphorically it's waiting for the delayed but inevitable next thing to happen.

    When the penny drops, the next thing to happen is comprehension and, although delayed, it's not necessarily inevitable. If you wait for the penny to drop you could be waiting for ever.

    By the way, the penny dropped is distinct from a lightbulb moment. Although both describe an instant comprehension, a lightbulb moment need not be delayed, or even expected.

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  53. As long as we're talking about dropping stuff, I thought I might as well mention dropping a dime, which has nothing to do with waiting or comprehension -- though it does trace its origins to the pay phone.

    Back when US pay phones were everywhere they had slots for 3 different coin denominations: quarter (25 cents), dime (10 cents) and nickel (5 cents).

    While the cost of making a local call began (well before my day) at a nickel, by the time dropping a dime was ready to enter crime slang it had reached a dime. So dropping a dime on someone meant phoning the police to inform on him. Eventually this expression became so commonplace in crime fiction, TV and movies that the importance of the phone became immaterial and dropping a dime came simply to mean informing on someone regardless of means.

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  54. You lived in south Africa for a while, right? What about the south African "Howzit?", to which the reply is "Howzit!" (like ça va ? Ça va. But with less grammatical sense. I never got used to it- my impulse was always to reply "how's what?"

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  55. Of course, the truly British response to "Alright?" is "Not bad".

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  56. Hadn't really thought about it until this morning, but "Howdy" (which I really do use, pronounced something like "Haa-dy" 8-) ) is just a shortening of "How do you do?" to the point that it no longer even feels slightly like a question.

    To some extent, I find it useful precisely because it lacks that questioning quality, which I find very difficult to bypass, but still seems more friendly than a bare "Hello" or "Good Morning".

    A few weeks ago I was descending one of the high trails at Rocky Mountain National Park after a dawn photo shoot and met many people with more normal schedules going up the same trail. I started greeting them with a really cheerful "Howdy!" or "Good Morning!". (It was a beautiful day, after all.) Since many of the people were from places with much less demonstrative public manners, I'm afraid I spread a bid of discomfort along with the joy. After a time, this became a feature rather than a bug, allowing me a perverse pleasure in spreading shock and happiness at the same time.

    I didn't really think much about it at the time, but this was probably exactly the sort of nuanced Midwestern passive-aggressiveness that the article Lynn linked in her Twitter feed today referred to.

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  57. Anonymous in New Jersey28 October, 2015 17:38

    @Dick Hartzell,

    I think you need to spend more time around young Black* people. Your references are somewhat dated. "Ahh-ite" is neither recent nor usually used when one is actually inquiring about another's well-being. It's also used by "young people" a lot less than it was five to ten years ago. A lot less. (I often hear it as a marker of an older person trying to sound cool, and I've seen more than one young relative perform impressive eye-rolls upon hearing it.)

    "'S'up" is also an older usage**, although it can still be readily heard. (And I see fewer and less dramatic eyerolls from the kiddos when our older relatives use "it.) But "[our] version of 'How's it going?' these days" is still "How's it going?". Please don't mistake one of many greetings ('s'up) for being the norm or even near-universal. Among Black folks in the U.S., as with any other group, age, geographic region, and a slew of other factors are going to have an influence on individual preferences.

    – AiNJ

    *"Black" is my personal preference for identification. My preference has no bearing on the preference of others.

    **"What's up" has been in use for decades, and the shortened pronunciation has long been in use by loads of people whose accents and dialects make dropping letters the norm – not just among Black people. I think it only really gained prominence as marker of Black speech when non-Black people in the U.S. took note and used it as marked speech in TV ads, sitcoms and movies.

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  58. Anonymous in New Jersey28 October, 2015 17:57

    Oh! I meant to add to the post above that "What's up?" and "'S'up*'" are used very much in the way "All right" and "Alright" are described in Lynne's post. "How's it going?", "How goes?" and "Qué pasa?" are other equivalent phrases I frequently hear where I live.

    – AiNJ

    *I'd leave off the question mark if I were writing "'s'up" as dialogue.

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  59. My most frequent response to "What's up?" is "Nothing much. What's up with you?"

    That's just a more informal version of "How do you do?" "Fine, and you?"

    "S'up?" seems fairly common as an opening line on gay hookup apps like Grinder, although it's usually just "sup?"

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  60. Possible responses to "What's up?":

    If said in passing, you can just answer with, "Hey," "How ya doin'," or "Sup," (voiced as a statement not as a question) with a nod added if so desired.

    If any type of conversation may ensue, "Not much, how 'bout you?" and then let the other person take it from there.

    Mid-Atlantic USA

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  61. To someone of my background and generation (north-west London, 60s), "all right?" is pronounced "aw-reye'?". Just sayin', aw-reye'?

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  62. This puzzled me too. I spoke to a Scottish friend about it, and he agrees that it's weird.

    I just say "I'm fine. How are you?" I hope that's acceptable.

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  63. 50s, female, living in S Scotland but travelling around the UK for work - I hear "all right?" all the time from a variety of ages/ places/ classes. It seems to me to be a useful casual/all-purpose greeting for someone you have met before but don't have a strong relationship with. I like the young urban version ("aw-i?") but can't pull it off myself without sounding like Ali G. My response tends to be "Fine. You?" but I've never really thought about it until now so there may be some variation.

    I've just remembered - the comedian Michael Barrymore used "all right?" as a catchphrase greeting (mid-1980s till his fall from grace in the ?late 1990s?) which may have helped it spread. It was clearly presented by him as a recognised London/ Essex greeting at that time.

    Personally my husband and I favour "La" to each other, which is a contraction of "Hola!". We have no Spanish connection and started using it as a joke when Clive James used to talk about the trash magazine of the same name some time in the 1980s, before the appearance of its sister publication HELLO! in the UK. The response to this is also "La".

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  64. As a young Aussie, 'all right' would make me think I'm being asked about my health/wellbeing.

    My peers usually use 'chupta' to greet each other (HEAVILY contacted 'wotcha up ta'/'what are you up to') which is usually answered with a non-commital noise.

    Personally, my group of friends and I use a home sign greeting of two fingers together moved in a gesture like you're slowly pushing something away, starting with a closed fist and ending up with the two fingers upright. It's a crude sign meaning (to us) 'you up to'.

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  65. Just found your blog, and it's fascinating!

    "All right" sounds similar to the Hawaiian pidgin (yes, it's a creole, but it's called pidgin) greeting, "Howzit," which is similar to "All right, mate" in that it has its analogous "Howzit, brah?" The phrase comes from "How's it going?" but it certainly doesn't actually ask the question. You'll say "Eh, howzit, brah?" with the question inflection, and the person will answer back, "Howzit!" No reply about how it actually is going is needed.

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  66. I once was talking to a fellow gay friend who lives in NYC as I do and came from Brazil but frequents gay and latino circles, so I'm not sure where it cmae from but he suddenly said "Look at you!"

    I bring this up because I felt the same say Americans feel when asked "You alright?"

    I stopped and look at myself, but the speaker was saying 'you're doing something uncharacteristic in my judgement and experience with you and you should feel encouraged to do more', judging from the contexts in which I've heard it since.

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  67. This reminds me of the time I went on a German Exchange programme, it was probably around 1995. When I went over to stay with my exchange partner and her family it all seemed to go ok, when she came to stay with us I think she must have been really homesick as she was very hard work.

    One day, in what I thought was a totally unprovoked attack, she went absolutely mental at me. She was furious and declared that she was fine and to stop asking her how she was every time I saw her. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, because to me “alright” was just a greeting.

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