While I was down in Mexico this past week, I had lots of fun improving my knowledge of the local dialect of Nahuatl–the language of the ancient Aztecs, in case you didn’t know. And I was discussing the topic of greetings with a friend of mine down there, who informed me that when one person meets another (providing they both speak Nahuatl) they say Kejyaui! or sometimes just Yaui! for short. Both of these words come from a longer phrase that was used in the olden days which means “How is it going?”
As a pursuer of greetings, I naturally asked if these words would be the equivalent of the Spanish word Hola!, which I noted was practically a meaningless greeting.
“A greeting?” he said. “Hola isn’t a greeting, unless you say ¿Cómo estás? or ¡Buenos días! or some similar phrase along with it. Do you really think hola is a greeting?”
“I certainly thought so,” I replied. I let the matter rest, supposing it to be some cultural difference. It wasn’t until a day or two later that I realized why he had maintained that hola was not a greeting.
The key lay within the simple word “greeting.” In Spanish this word is saludo, but until now I had never considered where this word originated. Obviously it comes from salud, “health,” which in turn came from the Latin word salus. Something cannot be a greeting, a saludo, unless you inquire about the other person’s health (“How are you doing today?”, etc.). Upon researching the English word greeting, I found that it comes from our Germanic heritage, and has always meant what it does now–saying “hail,” “hello,” or whatever other greeting is in style, whether health is involved or not.
So, next time something odd like that pops up in my interlingual discussions, I will go back to the roots! You never know what treasures you’ll find…