Kids Say Hey: The Casualization of America

Here is something interesting I’ve noticed over the last year or so. The generations younger than mine – let’s say everyone under the age of 25 or so – use the word “hey” the same way my generation used “hello” and “dear” and “to whom it may concern.” When I get a cold email from a recent college grad who wants an informational interview, she starts it “Hey Thoughtbasket.” When I was in her shoes, I started such letters “Dear Thoughtbasket.” When my nephew sends me an email, he uses ‘hey” instead of “hi” or “hello” or just “Thoughtbasket.” When there are notes in the common areas of my building, they begin with “hey fellow tenants.”

I don’t love “hey” as a word; it’s too vague for me; I prefer more precision in my language. However, the real point of this post is to use “hey” as an example of the casualization of our society. Rather than a formal structure, in which the younger generation uses respectful language toward their elders, our society has eased into a more casual stance, in which we’re all pals who can say “hey” and then high-five each other. I’m not saying this is a bad thing….I am generally in favor of breaking down barriers, whether they are class-based or age-based. But it does seem kind of coarse. Like when there was that controversy a few years ago because a women’s athletic team wore flip-flops to the White House. There are situations where a little respect can go a long way, and respect is not conveyed by the word “hey.”

And of course, regular Thoughtbasket readers know how I feel about flip-flops; they were the topic of my first blog posting ever.

Go casual! Flip flops at the White House.

Go casual! Flip-flops at the White House.


2 responses to “Kids Say Hey: The Casualization of America

  1. I’m right with you on the “casualization” of language. It’s disturbing to receive papers from my college students that read like texts, instead of college level assignments. It’s as if they really don’t see the difference in modes of communication.

    Interestingly I first started using “hey” as a greeting when I lived in NC. It was a very Southern thing to me. Like “put that up” instead of “put that away.” At a retail store: “Can I put that up for you ma’am?” “Hey” seemed to be part of that Southern vernacular. Now, 20 years later, it’s ubiquitous!

  2. I tend to say “hey” on purpose to be more casual with my students, but at the same time it drives me crazy when they’re not formal enough, especially in writing. I had a kid email me asking for a letter of recommendation with ZERO information about deadlines, content, what it’s for, anything… finally he gave up because I kept requesting more details 🙂

    I also wanted to let you know I nominated you for the Liebster Award:

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