How Do You Do?

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?”

Greeting

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

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16 thoughts on “How Do You Do?

  1. Being very English. This is exactly what I ask/reply at formal introductions, especially if it is the second meeting. Reserved for solicitors, council officials, bank managers etc. Even if we feel ill, dying, we reply “Fine. Thankyou” and usually add “And how are you?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sonia…. Thanks for sharing “How do you do?” Yeah.. its true that we don’t greet or get greeted like this now.. its more of “Hi.. How are you… ” So tell me… What should be a response to “Hi.. how are you?”… Such greeting should also be returned with… “How are you?”

    Also, can you put light on why the reply to “How do you do” should be “how do you do”… I am eager to know since whatever little times I had been greeted like this, I have always said “Fine thank you. And you?”… Did I make a laughing stock out of me :O

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Adithi thanks for your comment. “How are you? ” is a question. So it needs an answer. The most appropriate answer is “I am fine, thank you.” You can then show the same interest in the other persons health and well being and ask “How are you?” But please note that the person asking how are you is doing so as a polite way of starting a conversation. So it is not appropriate to reveal one’s complete health details. 😀

      On the other hand, how do you do is not a question that needs an answer. In the 16th century, it used to mean the same as how are you. But later it just became a polite form of greeting among the U classes. They used to greet each other with how do you do and respond with how do you do. They no particular reason for this. It is just the way people speak. It is just like we say hi today and get a hi in response.

      Now that was a long response to your comment right? Hope I did not bore you. ☺

      Thanks a lot for visiting my blog and leaving behind a comment. ☺

      Liked by 1 person

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