Goodbye to Hello

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Aside from "OK", is there any English word in the world that is better known than "hello", or maybe "thanks", or "bye"?

Now get this:

"Don’t say hello, it’s too western, Indian civil servants told"
by Amrit Dhillon, Delhi,
October 3, 2022
Civil servants have been told to bid goodbye to saying “hello” in the Indian state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai and an estimated 125 million people.
The state government has banned employees from using the word, which it decries as too bland and western. Instead, they must greet the public with the more sonorous “vande mataram” or “I bow to thee, oh motherland” as India presses ahead with the “Hinduisation” of public life.

The state is ruled by the prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which is asserting the cultural supremacy of the Hindu faith and Indian tradition. The order from the chief minister describes hello as a western greeting that “does not evoke affection”.
Maharashtra is the third largest state in India….

Selected readings


[Thanks to Mark Swofford]


  1. Bloix said,

    October 3, 2022 @ 4:31 pm

    Vande Mataram, as wikipedia tells us, is the name of a song from the early 20th c that was used as a marching song of the independence movement. Although the first verse of the song is not explicitly a hymn to the Hindu religion, the third verse explicitly identifies the motherland with two Hindu dieties: Durga and Kakshmi.

    I have a feeling that perhaps what's going on is an effort to make Muslims – whether themselves civil servants or merely people who need to deal with civil servants – uncomfortable. But I don't know much about India. Someone with a solid understanding might correct me.

  2. Bloix said,

    October 3, 2022 @ 4:52 pm

    PS- a little googling reveals some protests: "We Muslims can't say Vende Mataram."

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 3, 2022 @ 4:58 pm

    A story from the Indian press has this interesting detail: "This proposal was initially mooted by Maharashtra minister Sudhir Mungantiwar soon after he was sworn-in recently. He later backtracked and said that any equivalent word reflecting nationalism can be used." Your mileage may vary as to whether "say whatever you want as long as it's nationalistic" should be thought reassuring or alarming.

    To part of Bloix's point, the wikipedia article says the "workaround" going back to the 1940's was to truncate the song (as a "nationalist" thing) to the first two verses, i.e. before the specifically-Hindu content becomes explicit. The article also says that a prominent Muslim politician (currently governor of Kerala) has produced an Urdu version, presumably limited to the supposedly non-sectarian opening verses. That doesn't mean that some members of minority groups in India wouldn't view it as still having a factional or sectarian vibe, of course, and it's possible that a song/slogan that was not particularly associated with the Hindutva perspective back during the campaign against British rule might have come to be associated with it today after 75 years of changing context.

  4. pfb said,

    October 3, 2022 @ 7:08 pm

    Surely "Sieg Heil" gets the same meaning across in fewer syllables.

  5. Anthony said,

    October 3, 2022 @ 7:52 pm

    It would be highly improper to sing the Deutschlandlied intact (that is, with the first stanza, now tainted by Nazism).

  6. Jason said,

    October 3, 2022 @ 8:01 pm

    What if Mr. Bharatiya frames this as resistance to internalised colonialist oppression, to avoid using the language of the English oppressor. What if he framed the objections of Muslims as equally part of colonialist oppression, as followers of a culturally imperialisticreligion with a long and brutal history of invasion, slaver and colonisation of the subcontinent (true enough.)

    It seems to me the language of the "left" has been seamlessly merging with this kind of "right-wing" hypernationalism for quite some time now.

  7. AntC said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 5:22 am

    is there any English word in the world that is better known than "hello",

    He would answer to "Hi!" or to any loud cry,
    [Lewis Carroll]

    I guess "hi" is better-known than "hello". And has the advantage of not being so prominently English.

    OTOH "ISO 639-1 language code for Hindi." [wiktionary] Oh dear.

  8. Peter Grubtal said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 7:12 am

    With little more than a nodding acquaintanceship with Indian culture, I can't see why "namaste" isn't proposed. Presumably that has connotations and associations that rule it out.

  9. languagehat said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 8:18 am

    With little more than a nodding acquaintanceship with Indian culture, I can't see why "namaste" isn't proposed.

    Because this isn't actually a rational proposal to cut down on Western intrusion into Indian culture, it's a further step in the Gleichschaltung that is being imposed on India as it is (mutatis mutandis) on China and Russia. The comment by pfb above is the appropriate response.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 10:00 am

    I think many/most white-skinned foreign kids in Tokyo back in the '70's (presumed by locals to be Anglophones until proven otherwise, which was at the time probably not that bad a guess statistically) had the experience of local kids at playgrounds etc. staring* at them while saying "hello … hello … hello …" (modulo Japanese phonology, so actually ヘロ … ヘロ … ヘロ …). But AFAIK Westernization was not so far advanced back then that they would say it to each other … But still some evidence that it's perceived by non-Anglophones as a very prominent word in the English lexicon?

    *Probably not in a subjectively ill-intended way, but it was in retrospect a useful life experience to have the subjective reaction of self-consciously feeling like The Other.

  11. Kenny Easwaran said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 10:18 am

    At Texas A&M, they ask employees to greet everyone with "Howdy" instead of "hello" or "hi"!

  12. Victor Mair said,

    October 5, 2022 @ 10:14 am

    From an anonymous colleague:

    Totally unscientific, but if you watch the sub-titled detective shows from abroad, the two English words that seem to be universal are "fuck" as an isolated expletive, and "OK."

  13. ~flow said,

    October 5, 2022 @ 10:30 am

    Last time this happened in my country many people resorted to "Heitler!" and I refuse to translate that.

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