Category Archives: Greetings

A Taxonomy of Greetings

OMG iPhone Greeting

The OMG iPhone Greeting

This is a greeting in which the greeter attempts to greet one who is utterly, totally, completely and intensely adsorbed in an iPhone. In an affront to one’s good manners, this greeting may go unreciprocated. Or, the greeted may be sufficiently surprised so as to look up and exclaim, as if blameless: “Eeh?” Your response: OMG iPhone! You think to yourself: at least your friend didn’t walk off cliff or run a train off the tracks… this time!

Let’s explore. Psychologically-speaking, we have a fun combination of the addictive qualities of devices and media, coupled with the detrimental impacts of multi-tasking. At the very least. Let’s poke a bit at distraction.

No matter how many digital things we surround ourselves with, humans have biological limits that researchers trying to understand. Attention is finite. Just et al (2008) coaxed research subjects into an MRI to understand how their brains handled distraction while driving in a simulator. How’d they fare?

OMG predictably! Driving quality suffered. They wrote that “we interpret this diversion of attention as reflecting a capacity limit on the amount of attention or resources that can be distributed across the two tasks. This capacity limit might be thought of as a biological constraint that limits the amount of systematic neural activity that can be distributed across parts of the cortex.” (p. 6)

While we’re talking about this article, one aspect of academic writing that I love is the use of “may”. Here, we can see an example (emphasis added):

“it may be dangerous to mindlessly combine the special human capability of processing spoken language with a more recent skill of controlling a large powerful vehicle that is moving rapidly among other objects.” (p.6)


So… Where does this leave us? Look, when you may want a good conversation, leave that mobile phone behind – in your bag, or if you really want to be sure about it, you may pop it into the friendly blender.

p.s. For a fun experiment, evaluate performance on the Interactive Stroop Effect test.

Just MA, Keller TA, Cynkar J. A Decrease in Brain Activation Associated with Driving When Listening to Someone Speak. Brain research. 2008;1205:70-80. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2007.12.075. Available online.
Drive By Greeting

The Drive-by Greeting

The drive-by greeting is a perfunctory greeting made in passing. It includes no follow-up and indeed, gives little time for the greeted to elicit a response. A response by the greeted will often go unrecognized or noticed. This greeting is, perhaps, an individual’s response to the fast pace of an office environment as it clashes with the desire to socialize with each of those one might pass. 

Writers, workers and cartoonists have long complained about the pace of the workplace vis. its impact on health and personal well-being. In 1875, essayist William Rathbone Greg wrote:

“Beyond doubt, the most salient characteristic of life in the later half of the nineteenth century is its speed-the rate at which we move and the high pressure at which we work… [is this] a good… [and] worth the price we pay for it?” (Greg, 1875).

In 1875, as more recently, researchers and grumbling office workers suspect that pace of life is correlated to such detriments as coronary heart disease (Levine et al., 1999) by way of the impacts of stress (Chandola et al., 2008), including poor diet and sedentarianism (take that, dictionary!). However, an earlier (2003) meta-review conducted by a boisterous, well-credentialed Australian group found that workplace stress had little effect on heart disease; instead, depression and social isolation were predictors (Bunker et al., 2003). Golly! There were 11 authors on that article. Re: re: re: re: that, imagine how stressful that e-mail exchange would have been!

So… what to do? Next time you’re taking a stroll at work, slow down the pace a bit and say “Hey!” with the High Five greeting. It’s a far more positive approach!


Bunker, S. J., Colquhoun, D. M., Esler, M. D., Hickie, I. B., Hunt, D., Jelinek, V. M., … & Tonkin, A. M. (2003). ” Stress” and coronary heart disease: psychosocial risk factors. The Medical Journal of Australia, 178(6), 272-276. Online here.

Chandola, T., Britton, A., Brunner, E., Hemingway, H., Malik, M., Kumari, M., … & Marmot, M. (2008). Work stress and coronary heart disease: what are the mechanisms?. European Heart Journal, 29(5), 640-648. Online here.

Levine, R. V., & Norenzayan, A. (1999). The pace of life in 31 countries.Journal of cross-cultural psychology, 30(2), 178-205. Online here.

Royal Institution of Great Britain (1875). Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain with Abstracts of the Discourses. W. Nicol, Printer to the Royal Institution. Online here.

High Five Greeting

The Silent High Five

The Silent High Five is a greeting given by physical contact; open palm of greeter to open palm of greeted, struck quickly. It often lacks verbal preemption (but may be followed-up with verbal reinforcement. “Rock on” and “way to go” are common accompaniments.

Ostensibly, we can thank jazz musicians for their invention of the five, or “giving skin“. As King (1968) wrote of the five, it is “… the jive set’s seal of approval, the jazz equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor” (p. 207). So hey, let’s dig a bit.

Touch-being touched by another, or touching another-is an immensely important to human development. Foundational scientific research was conduced in the 1920s. In one work, scientists confined a group of post-operative rat babies to a cup, whilst they provided others with maternal contact. Food and sunlight were kept equal. The experimenters wondered: which rats would recover from their operation? So, what happened? The rats attended by mom did AOK… and ostensibly participated in researchers’ future experiments. What about the rats raised in a cup? Their lives concluded er… decisively.

Despite this (and other) research, humans have interpreted the science variously. In 1928, John B. Watson, a popular (yet radical) psychologist, wrote this choice piece in his seminal parenting book Psychological Care of Infant and Child :

“If you expected a dog to grow up and be useful as a watch-dog… or for anything except a lapdog, you wouldn’t dare treat it the way you treat your child. When I hear a mother say: ‘Bless its little heart’ when it falls down, or stubs its toe… I usually have to go for a little walk to let off steam. Can’t the mother train herself when something happens to the child to look at its hurt without saying anything…?” (p. 74)

And, oh my! Watson wrote this choice piece a few paragraphs later:

“… If you haven’t a nurse and cannot leave the child, put it out in the back-yard a large part of the day. Build a fence around the yard so that you are sure no harm can come to it. Do this from the time it is born… no child should get commendation and notice and petting every time it does something it ought to be doing anyway” (p. 75-76).

Actually, the entire chapter book is worth a read, for it shows how child-rearing philosophies differ across time, place and culture. Watson’s ideas are not entirely without merit. For example, he describes the importance of giving kids materials to make toys, rather than the toys themselves. Interesting! Ultimately, who’s to say which child-rearing approach is best?

Nonetheless, the results of science tell us that touch, and physical interaction, helps development and human experience (Ardiel et al., 2010).  Thus, the High Five greeting is not simply a greeting. It’s a congratulations, a celebration and a fantastic way to help colleagues, friends and others feel wanted, needed and comforted.

Go give someone a #HighFiveGreet today!

King, L.L. (1968). … and Other Dirty Stories. World Publishing Company

Ardiel, E. L., & Rankin, C. H. (2010). The importance of touch in development. Paediatrics & Child Health, 15(3), 153–156. Online here.

Watson, J. B. (1928). Psychological care of infant and child. Online here

The Inappropriate Greeting

A greeting that’s questionable in appropriateness for office settings. Often followed by an observing coworker’s chuckle, which adds to the inappropriateness and thickens the awkwardness.

One approach to understanding this situation is through Banduras Social Learning Theory (1977). He writes, “In the social learning theory view, man is neither driven by inner forces or buffeted helplessly by environmental interaction. Rather, psychological functioning is best understood in terms of a continuous reciprocal interaction between behavior and its controlling conditions” (p. 2).

In our case above, said greeter is likely to learn quickly that such inappropriate questions are not the stuff of a workplace if the coworker and colleagues reinforce the inappropriateness of the comment by (a) not dignifying a response; (b) expressing surprised and/or shocked nonverbal cues and (c) not inviting the greeter to lunch, coffee or for trust-falls any time soon.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Retrieved from here



The Touch Greeting

The greeter enters the physical “personal” space of another and, before saying anything, lightly places their hand on the other’s back… akin to how the ghost of one’s dead grandmother would attempt to get one’s attention. This is, as you can imagine, very spooky.

The greeted doesn’t, at first, know who’s behind them. And then, when they do, there’s an awkward jolt.

Proxemics is the study of personal space, and I bet proxemics experts have a field day with their studies of modern office behavior. How frequently have you felt the weirdness of a personal space violation – or wondered whether your co-worker will appreciate, or call HR because of, a hug?

Significant credit goes to one Edward T. Hall (and possibly a generation of unrecognized graduate students!) for developing the field of proxemics. Hall classified four proximal distances: intimate, personal, social and public (1966, p. 114). The discomfort marked by the touch greeting is such that an acquaintance (normally kept at bay, the social proximity a few feet away) breaks into the personal proximity (about 1.5 feet away). This is understood as a transgression by those in some situations, e.g., some American office environments.

An additional (interesting) tidbit from Halls’ work is thus:

“Likewise, husbands returning from work often find themselves sitting and relaxing… for at this distance a couple can engage each other briefly and disengage at will. Some men discover that their wives have arranged the furniture back-to-back… [a] seating arrangement is an appropriate solution to minimum space because it is possible for two people to stay uninvolved if that is their desire” (Hall, 1966, p. 123).

I guess that’s what we do with office cubes, eh?

Hall, E. T. (1963). A system for the notation of proxemic behavior. American anthropologist, 65(5), 1003-1026.

Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension.

The Non-Greeting

The non-greeting is observed as essentially rude. It occurs when the greeter completely ignores human compassion or dignity and immediately dives headlong into a request, opinion or exclamation of how busy they are. Even worse when the greeter is requesting something of the greeted such as work, food, favors or affirmation.

I was excited to read “Greet with the same or render a better greeting: Some translational discourse of Persian-Gulf-Arabic greetings” by one Lafi M Alharbi. It seems that the greeting one chooses to open a conversation with, and the subsequent respond by a greeter, can make a big difference to outcomes.

A few choice quotes: “… ‘greetings not only establish an atmosphere of sociability, they also communicate ideas’ (ibid:334)”. My favorite is that “Failure to fulfill one’s obligatory role during greeting exchange may consequently result in a social disappointment, which may vary from dismay to a more serious breach of social relations and perhaps cause to be in a physical danger as in Tuareg greetings in the Sahara desert (Youssouf et al 1976)” (p. 116). About that Tuareg handshake? The cited 1976 source is lovely. Apparently, the Tuareg traveller always runs the risk, in a greeting, that ” …there is always the danger than an unwary traveler can be suddenly pulled from his camel.”

Yeah, we don’t have to deal with that in the office culture. While non-greeting is not particularly deadly, it is certainly considered rude and-in this layperson’s opinion-may result in serious social disappointment.

Alharbi, L. M., & Al-Ajmi, H. (2008). Greet with the same or render a better greeting: Some translational discourse of Persian-Gulf-Arabic greetings. Iranian Journal of Language Studies (IJLS), 2(1), 115-146. Chicago. Retrieved from here

Youssouf, I. A., Grimshaw, A. D., & Bird, C. S. (1976). greetings in the desert. American Ethnologist, 3(4), 797-824. Retrieved from here

The Re-Run

The Re-Run greeting is made by those people who talk about the same thing, each time they stop by for a greeting (e.g., a specific sports team, Star Wars, that joke which created bonding, laughter, forced laughter).

I’m not sure where to start here, because, wow, there’s so much to start with! Is the Re-Run due to shyness? If so, Beer (not the drink, 2002; a brilliant read) describes several theories founded on the entity vs. incremental self-belief about intelligence (love those theories; see Dweck et al., 1988 as ref).

But, perhaps it’s simply the characteristic of a nerd? In case we wonder about the qualities of a fine nerd, Engelhart writes that “Nerds lack the ability to read their interlocutor’s facial expressions and emotions, are unable to recognize irony and sarcasm and notoriously fail to lead basic small talk”. I’m hurt! And —

And, hey, didja hear about the new Star Wars? Let me tell you about my favorite part of the trailer!

Beer, J. S. (2002). Implicit self-theories of shyness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(4), 1009. Available online here

Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256-273. Available online here

Engelhart, J. (2012). The Nerd as the Other. Retrieved from here

The Run-On

A greeting in which the greeter, or the greeted, speak continuously until interrupted by either (a) the other party or (b) external events.

The run-on bears strong similarity to the overly detailed, except that it may be less so — simply is a run-on dialogue that doesn’t end quickly, because the speaker continues to speak long after the greetings probably should have ended, which would have originally resulted in an appropriate greeting, but isn’t appropriate any longer because it hadn’t ended. So there.

The funny thing about run-on sentences and paragraphs is that they differ by culture, for example, native Spanish speakers tend to produce run-on sentences in their English writing due to the native Spanish speaking and writing convention of simply writing long sentences, which makes (a) awareness and (b) proofreading really important cuando estas ecribiendo in otras lenguas. Sabes?

Simpson, J. M. (2000). Topical structure analysis of academic paragraphs in English and Spanish. Journal of Second Language Writing, 9(3), 293-309. Retrieved from aqui

The Concise

A greeting in which both greeter and greeted exchange nothing more than single words: “Hi” and “Hi”, and so forth. If asked, both the greeter and greeted would rate the quality of their as greeting “nice” on a scale of one to seven, with one as “omg bodily repulsive” and seven as “why I live, breathe and write passionate, poor poetry about ripe red roses.” My 8th grade English teacher railed against use of the word “nice” for, in her opinion, it expressed nothing of descriptive value. I agree.

This greeting is, essentially, a convention of nice politeness. It’s an appropriate acknowledgement that the other exists in the same proximity; it’s possibly a show of respect. More tersely, it’s polite. Researchers indicate that young children-ahem, some young children-learn these politeness routines at a young age. As Greif et al (1980, p.166) conclude, “children do not seem to use politeness routines very willingly or spontaneously, but the adult world insists on their performance.” Do we ever!

Greif, E. B., & Gleason, J. B. (1980). Hi, thanks, and goodbye: More routine information. Language in Society, 9(02), 159-166. Retrieve from here

The Reel-Back

A greeting given after the greeted has come and gone. The greeter, having seen the greeted, shouts a greeting aloud – thus calling the greeted to double back to engage in conversation. The greeted, of course, will store (somewhere, in memory) that they have been greeted until such time as they have sufficiently approached the greeter to engage in conversation.

Memory is a cool thing and, depends, in part upon the size of the passages leading to the memory centers of the brain. Proof positive is supplied by D’Affingy (1706) who wrote that “… the passage open and wide by which the spirits ascend up to it and with ease, and without any obstruction, such Men are quick of Apprehension, and their Memory is more happy, and the more susecptable to the Ideas.” (p. 21). Or so that’s what physicians thought, in 1706.

More recently, through their research, Baddeley and Hitch (1992; no relation to Hitchcock, Alfred) believe they identified the nature of short term memory as a “control system with limits on both its storage and processing capabilities” (p. 86) as it relates to LTS (long term store). They also posited that “… working memory plays a part in verbal reasoning and in prose comprehension” (p. 86; it’s a good page!). That would be why I’m going to keep this entry short – so you can remember it!

Baddeley, A. (1992). Working memory. Science, 255(5044), 556-559. Online here

D’Affingy, M. (1706). The Art of Memory; a treatise useful to all, especially such are those to speak in public. F. Darby for Andr. Bell at the Cros-Keys and Bible in Cornhil. Available online here