Well, this is a fine How Do You Do isn’t it?
I intended to start this post discussing the correct manner in which to meet and greet a person with the phrase “how do you do” when it occurred to me that the phrase is actually a question without intended meaning.
“What does he mean by that” I hear you ask (yes, my website has ears but that’s another story). Well, I’ll tell you.
If you truly wanted to receive an answer to the question you would say the phrase with an upward inflection thereby indicating a question is being put forth. You would therefore expect to receive a response from the person to whom the question was put. Fair enough! Not so, when first meeting a person and shaking hands.
Today, we are more likely to say “Hi, I’m Adrian” or “G’day” (Australian) when meeting a person for the first time which is rather sad as there is no intent made in the greeting to show interest in the other party, leaving them to respond only with a “hi” or “g’day to you” or some such.
The polite and proper way to meet and greet a person for the first time is to say “how do you do“.
Now, like a lot of idioms it is not to be taken at face value. You are not expecting to receive, nor will the other party be expected to give, an answer. In fact the phrase is said with a downward inflection, indicating a statement not a question. The correct response is a “how do you do” statement in return.
“Hmmm, well that’s a fine how do you do I must say!” Now this particular statement is a modest expression of mild surprise or disappointment. The tone is vague and sarcastic. “harrumph!”
It then occurred to me how many similar sounding words there are to “do you”. Such as:
I’ll get me coat and go I think.