In 1983, Christopher Wright Taylor, an undergraduate student in UCLA‘s political science department, conducted the first serious study on American society’s transition from the greetings What‘s up?, What’s going on?, What‘s happening? and How’s it going? to How are you doing?, How you doin‘?, How-doin’?, How ARE y‘doin’? and, eventually, to y‘DYU’n‘? and ’Dyuhn‘?, the two most popular inquiries in American English today. Prior to Taylor’s study, if one wanted to force someone into saying Fine, thank you, Not much, Not too much, Not too bad or Not too bad and yourself?, one was advised to trap one‘s prey with What’s up?, What‘s going on?, What’s happening? or How‘s it going? But Taylor changed all that. His experiments with How are you doing? and its derivatives ultimately led to linguistic developments without which our collective ersatz well-being might easily remain a mystery to this day.
About five years after Taylor finished his unpublished dissertations (but prior to Rachel Lagunoff’s notorious The Use of ”They“ as a Singular Pronoun), I spent two months as a houseguest of my friend Nancy, her sister Linda, Linda‘s boyfriend Richard and Richard’s friend Carl. Richard and Carl could usually be found atop large motorcycles, wearing black leather jackets studded with daggers long and sharp enough to rotisserize chickens. The pair went through a lot of drugs, and vice versa — mostly speed and alcohol (they operated dance clubs), sometimes LSD or mushrooms or marijuana. And Quaaludes, I think. And cocaine.
Late one night, as I sat at the kitchen table drinking a beer and writing in one of my candy-ass hardbound tablets, Richard and Carl burst through the front door, terrifically wasted on mushrooms, speed and alcohol. Richard and Carl grew up in East London, well within earshot of Bow Bells, the church bells famous for fostering cockney accents. I couldn‘t make out what they were saying, but it sounded very much like a Derek and Clive routine called ”This Bloke Came Up to Me“ from Derek and Clive (Live) (Island Masters, 1976).
Eventually they cursed and stumbled their way into the kitchen.
”Hey Dave,“ said Carl.
”Hey Carl. Hey Richard.“ The three of us got along well enough.
”How are you doing?“ said Richard.
”I don’t know. Not so wonderful, I guess. Still kind of depressed. How about you?“
Richard lost it. ”LOOK, MATE! WHEN I ASK YOU ‘HOW ARE YOU DOING?’ I DON‘T FUCKING WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU’RE FUCKING DOING! ALL RIGHT? WHEN I ASK YOU ‘HOW ARE YOU DOING?’ I WANT YOU TO TELL ME ‘FINE, THANK YOU, HOW ARE YOU?’ ALL RIGHT? IS THAT SO FUCKING DIFFICULT, MATE? DO YOU FUCKING THINK YOU CAN FUCKING HANDLE THAT MUCH OF IT? TO FUCKING HAVE A FUCKING CIVILIZED . . . TO TALK LIKE A FUCKING HUMAN FUCKING BEING? RIGHT, MATE?“ It was as if Peter Cook were performing right there in the kitchen, except it wasn‘t nearly as funny, and it wouldn’t stop. ”DO I FUCKING LOOK LIKE I GIVE A FUCK ABOUT ALL THE FUCKING MINUTIAE OF YOUR FUCKING LIFE WHEN I ASK YOU HOW THE FUCK YOU‘RE DOING? DO I? NO! JUST TRY TO BE A NORMAL FUCKING HUMAN BEING, AND WHEN PEOPLE ASK YOU HOW THE FUCK YOU’RE DOING, JUST TELL US EVERYTHING‘S FUCKING BEAUTIFUL SO WE CAN GET ON WITH OUR FUCKING LIVES! ALL RIGHT?“
Carl stood watching, amazed. Richard had seemed like someone who might get into fights, but not over questions of etiquette or propriety.
”All right,“ I said carefully, hoping to avoid being impaled on Richard’s jacket. ”I‘m fine, thank you. How are you?“
”Fine, thank you,“ Richard said lightly and released my collar.
This week we celebrate the birthday of the late Peter Cook, who seven months from now, on November 17, would have turned 63. As the Clive half of the (primarily ’70s) British comedy team Derek and Clive (Dudley Moore was Derek), Cook drilled new tunnels beneath the field of sharp-witted, freeform vulgarity. One of Derek and Clive‘s accomplishments was a short dialogue titled ”Hello,“ an excerpt of which follows:
How are you?
I’m terribly well, how are you?I‘m terribly well as well.
It continues. The rest of ”Hello,“ as well as other important texts, is available at Jim Trash’s venerable Peter Cook Appreciation Society site (www.scream.demon.co.ukpcas. html). One of these works, titled ”The Codlike Genius of Sven“ (www.scream.demon.co.uk pcooksven.html), is a transcript from one of several nonconsecutive nights in 1988 when Cook messed around with a nonfictional Clive, late-night talk-radio host Clive Bull of LBC Radio‘s Through the Night. Rainbow George Weiss taped the call, and Jim Trash has made the audio — the cleanest Cook you’ll ever hear — available as a zipped WAV (www.scream. demon.co.ukpcooksven1.zip). Further studies? The House of Phespirit has ”track-by-track transcriptions of the three legendary Derek and Clive albums“ (Derek and Clive [Live], Derek and Clive Come Again and Derek and Clive Ad Nauseam) at www.phespirit. demon.co.ukdc.htm.
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