How are you?

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Sep 5, 2011 05:19
How are you guys? This is my 100th entry, hurray!

One of my favourite English expressions is 'How are you?' So I'd like to write about it today.

We don't have the exact counterpart of 'How are you?' in Japanese. You can say, '気分はどう?' or '最近どう?' etc, but their usage is slightly different and they are not that routine greetings.

In most cases, the question 'How are you?' is answered with 'I'm fine, thanks.' It's almost a mere formality. Yet I think that it is a great tradition to ask how your family, friends and colleagues are feeling now. The question itself implies that you acknowledge the existence of the person you're talking to. You acknowledge that the person is not a stone but a sentient human being. I even want to import this tradition into Japan.

By the way, one of my Japanese friends told me that the question 'How are you?' is actually not asking how you are feeling now.

According to him, the original form of the greeting was 'How is it going with you?' In Middle English, it also took the form as 'How you (it) is going?' The subject 'it' was omitted, and the object 'you' was placed after 'how'. Later, the object 'you' was mistaken as the subject. Then, 'is' was replaced with 'are' to match better to 'you'. That's how the present form of 'How are you?' was formed.

I'm not a Middle English expert, so I can't validate his explanation. Basically, what he is saying is that the question 'how are you?' is (at least in its original form) not asking how you're feeling but how things are going around you.

As a native English speaker of the modern time, how do you understand 'How are you?' When you say 'How are you?', do you think you're asking how the person you're talking to is feeling now? Or are you asking how things around him/her is going?

Because people answer with 'I'm fine' rather than with 'it's fine,' I think most modern people are literally asking about feelings. However, 'I'm fine.' can be a short form of 'It's going very well, so I'm fine'. So tell me about your interpretation!