“Hey” is for Horses

I’ve noticed a troubling trend in television dialogue for two characters to begin their conversation like this:


Now “Hey” is a perfectly reasonable word. I use it myself. But what bothers me so much about this recurrent exchange is that the actors always deliver their “Hey” like some languorous hipster, generally when in the middle of working on a farm or meditating on a porch or doing some kind of “thinking” in relation to an emotional exercise. Never mind the age or the character relationship. The double “Hey” is used among couples who have been together for multiple years, siblings, between shopkeepers and customers — in short, it now serves in lieu of a name. It is also used when one character has returned from some pressing errand and has just finished talking with the other character only an hour before! Instead of even a rudimentary exchange like:

CHARACTER A: Everything okay?
CHARACTER B: (silence, as CHARACTER B ponders death of a loved one)
CHARACTER A: Is there anything I can do?
CHARACTER B: Leave me alone.

we get


No sense of empathy. No sense of giving someone space. At the end of the day, there’s the lazy television writer’s trusted “Hey,” which signals to the audience that the show will go on and we will be right back for a message from our sponsors. And the characters don’t even bother to refer to each other by their first names!

Well, I’m sorry, but this is lazy writing. “Hey” has become the detached crutch that has now replaced beats and silent emotional reaction. Apparently, television space must be filled up with dialogue or an action scene at every moment, even if it’s a monosyllabic word. And instead of conveying excitement, the “Hey” is drawn out, as if Southern Californian vernacular could be found in every scenario.

Perhaps the solution to all this is for fans of television to count the number of “Heys” in any given episode and to publicly shame these writers into writing more convincing dialogue.


  1. I have a similar hate for ‘totally’ and ‘absolutely’. I’m waiting for the show that has the balls to use ‘partially’ and ‘relatively’.

  2. The etymology is interesting. I would have thought that “hey” and “hi” were diminutives of “hello.” But “hey” came first: 13th century, “used to express interrogation, surprise or exultation.” “Hi” is 15th-century. “Hello” (late 19c), which came about in tandem with the telephone, is a variation on “hollo” (14c), or holler, “used to call attention (as when a fox is spied during a fox hunt)”.

  3. My favorite is this: The guy has just been shot three times; the chest, the leg, the side of his head. He’s bleeding and breathing rapidly. In severe pain. The woman, usually a love interest if they haven’t just made gratuituous love a few minutes before the shooting, rushes to the poor sod, leans over him, and says “Are you okay?” I’ve seen this over and over again on TV and movies. Once, the woman had been beaten and raped by three guys (fortunately not shown) She’s on the ground, messed, crying, panting, bleeding. The police officer, again the leaning in, says to her “Are you okay?” Sure fella, feel great. Let’s see how you feel after going through what I just did. Where did you get your training? Did you skip the part about assessing the state of the victim? Talk about tv and movies for idiots.

  4. A variation of the “Hey” exchange: The lovers who greet each other at poignant moments in time with an earnest: “Hey, You.”

    So Ross/Rachel.

    It’d be better if it were, “Hey, mon cherie.”

  5. I like the way they wrap presents in sitcoms. Top and box are wrapped separately so you just have to pop the top off. No muss no fuss.

    And scenes involving eating around a table: everyone sits with one side empty; heaven forbid that we have to look at people’s backs.

  6. This only goes to show how nihlistic TV writers are. In “The Tick Vs. the Big Nothing”, it was explained that the Hey, were a fiendish group of aliens out to destroy the universe. Their nihlistic propaganda was always conveyed such: “Hey, Hey, Hey”. Which could only be countered by uttering the word “What”.

    So a Hey without a What neutralizing it is nothing more than advocation the anihliation of all existence.

  7. A defense of the phrase “Are you OK? ” What the asker is trying to determine is if the person is concious and how lucid they are. “Are you OK? may sound moronic. But its so simple even a person weak from blood loss would readily understand the sentiment. It’s practically a text message “R U OK?” 4 neat sylables.

    The alternative is the dreadfully melodramatic imperative, “Speak to me! Speak to me!”

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