heigh is for horses

What is the proper thing to say when someone asks “How are you?”  It should be “I’m well” or “Things have been better” or “Something that implies how I’m doing.”  The response I heard today (and have been hearing for a while) is “hey.” Oh, how that drives me nuts!  I’m not saying hello for the second time.  I’m really asking you how you are doing!

The other misuse of the word hey that bothers me is found in the expression “hey is for horses.”  That’s not necessarily true.  Hey is an exclamation; it’s a short word to get attention.

Hay isn’t for horses either.  Hay is dried grass for feeding livestock.

Heigh is for horses.  Think of it like mush for huskies, or sooey for pigs.

So please don’t respond with a “hey” unless you need to get my attention, or you need me to hand you some dried grass, or I look like a horse to you.  🙂


4 thoughts on “heigh is for horses

  1. This makes such a good linguistic study: While your social intention for saying “how are you?” is to ask a literal question, in this period of time, it is being understood socially as a greeting. Your frustration occurs as a result of differences in pragmatic systems. I find this absolutely fascinating! (There’s the descriptionist linguist in me coming out…)

    P.S. I hate to break it to you, but my dear Q has fed hay to horses on his WV farm, and I’ve seen horses eat hay.

    PPS. You may find this interesting. It shows how language changes.
    From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hey
    Used to attract attention or to express surprise, appreciation, wonder, or pleasure.
    Regional Note: Traditionally, hey was just an exclamation. Sometimes it expressed delight, sometimes a warning. Nowadays we find it used for emphasis as well, especially in the expression but hey. It is also a greeting. It is a short, colloquial version of How are you? and thus close kin to the informal salutation hi, which it seems to be replacing in many situations. Until recently, this greeting had a distinctly Southern flavor. The national survey conducted in the 1960s by the Dictionary of American Regional English found hey as a greeting restricted chiefly to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The friendly hey has since spread throughout the United States.

    • Wow! Where do I start to reply? 🙂

      I had thought about expanding this further, since I’m also a huge fan of linguistics. I think I appreciate the origin of words more, but I still like the logic of linguistics. However, I think that this is more an exercise in the social sciences. We are always busy running from point A to point B that we can’t stop to answer a question? That we allow the interpretation of a qualified question to fall to a mere “hey?”

      I believe that horses do fall under the livestock category, and I will definitely concede that they EAT hay. However, I am still left convinced that “heigh” is the correct spelling for the charming equines.

      I suspect that “howdy” and “howdy do” have a similar origin such as “how do you do?” Perhaps you and I could do a joint study… 😉

    • (I would like to clarify that I’m not saying that horses eat heigh. It’s a sort of exclamation used with horses. Like mush is the command for dogs in a sleigh ride. And sooey means that it’s dinner time to a pig. There are all sorts of words that are used with certain types of animals. These are just the examples I thought of off the top of my head.)


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