When I spotted the following question on Facebook, I felt that it would make a great blog post. After all, I spent many years of my life teaching English.
Q: Choose the best answer:
Hello, how do you do?
A). Good morning! B). I’m fine, thanks C). How are you? D). Bye! See you soon.
To view the original, click here.
Most of those who commented had selected B as the correct answer. Since my English teachers had insisted that the appropriate response to “How do you do?” is “How do you do?” I was surprised to see everybody marking B as the correct answer. I wondered if the language had changed during the long years I had spent writing SEO content at home.
At this point, something else struck me. I have communicated with hundreds and thousands of people, but I have never greeted anybody with a “How do you do?” And I am not the only one! Nobody has greeted me with a “How do you do?” In fact, the greeting “How do you do?” is gone. It is finished. It is archaic. I guess it exists only in text books and test papers designed to confuse kids and make them feel that they do not know any English.
I usually greet friends and acquaintances with a hearty “Hi.” When I want to be formal, I just say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening.” I have never said “How do you do?” and do not intend to.
“How do you do?” is a greeting in spite of the question mark at the end of it. It is not a question that demands an answer. It is just a greeting that has no meaning and makes no sense. It is not combined with a “Hello.” Once upon a time, it was a common greeting among England’s U people. While the non-U sections of society greeted one another with “Hello,” the U sections greeted one another with “How do you do?” The appropriate response is “How do you do?”
It is definitely not a question the demands answers such as “Fine, thank you” or “Oh, I’m fine except for a headache that starts at the back of the head and ends somewhere at my temples.” It definitely does not demand as a response another question such as “How are you?” If someone says “How do you do?” (I’m sure nobody will), just say “How do you do?” If you strongly suspect that they know nothing about what you have just read, say “Fine, thanks, and you?”
After all, we are not answering a test. After all, “How do you do?” had the same meaning as the modern “How are you?” back in the 16th century. I guess we can say anything we like and get away with it. I am sure that option B will be marked as the correct answer.
One of my sources: The Phrase Finder