Social Question

deni's avatar

Why do we say "what's up?" to people?

Asked by deni (22097 points ) October 13th, 2009

Unless someone is upset and “whats up?” is used to mean “what’s wrong?”, then usually there is no response that really fits “whats up?” Am I the only one that notices that this is sometimes awkward? Coworkers, friends, family, acquaintances, bosses, classmates, EVERYONE asks “whats up?” But do they really want to know whats up in your life right now, or do they want to know how you are…ugh, I just wish people would stop saying “whats up?” to me. “How are you?” would suffice, and much better if i do say so myself.

Like for example, I’m at work tonight tryin to load some boxes into a truck and someone I don’t know barges in to help. “whats up?” is the greeting. NOW I WANT TO TALK TO THIS PERSON IN A FRIENDLY MANNER, but what the hell am I supposed to say? “Oh, just loading some boxes” sounds dumb as hell, and is what I usually sheepishly say and “not much” is plain boring and makes you seem uninteresting.

I know this is not a big deal but I’m just wondering if anyone else feels this way about this phrase.

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32 Answers

DominicX's avatar

I don’t really feel that way. I think there are responses that fit it. When I say “what’s up?” I certainly am not expecting it to be “super interesting” all the time and “not much” or “just [insert ordinary action]” is fine. I also accept “hi” or “what’s up” as a response to “what’s up?” which can sometimes be a rhetorical question simply intended as a greeting. So, I will say that it can be confusing, but I do not think people think too much about the responses given.

DarkScribe's avatar

I have never said “what’s up” as a standard salutation. I have not heard anyone else do it either. “What’s happening” is common, but never what’s up unless it is to someone who obviously has something “up”.

Zen's avatar

What’s up? Not much, what’s up with you?

Saturated_Brain's avatar

A friend of mine likes to greet me like this. I just look up inquisitively and say, “The ceiling.”

mattbrowne's avatar

The root cause is that language changes over time. A major driver for this are young people. They have to become more independent from their parents. At some point in the past some people replaced ‘How are you?’ with ‘What’s up?’. But of course there are many other variations like ‘Hey, how are things?’ or gender-specific greetings like ‘How is it hanging?’

How to respond to variations you don’t like? Keep the answer short and friendly, like ‘good’ or ‘the usual’. Next time invent your own variation. Maybe people will pick it up and eventually ‘what’s up’ disappears.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I’m just glad that Budweiser commercial inspired “Wasssuuuuuuuuuuup” greeting finally died out. God, that was annoying.

As for your question, What’s down just sounds odd, or at least slightly sexual.Years ago I had a supervisor named Chuck. When I greeted him with “What’s up?” followed by his name, it sounded like a question as to the origin of puke. His job title was Terminal Supervisor. I told him that it sounded like a fatal disease.

FutureMemory's avatar

My usual response is “Hey, what’s going on?”, or a simple “Hey..”

cookieman's avatar

I prefer “What’s shakin’ bacon?”

Buttonstc's avatar

If you prefer a more standard type of greeting from someone you encounter on a regular basis, perhaps modeling it for them in your own response may get the point across in a subliminal. If it’s a stranger or someone encountered infrequently it really doesn’t matter much one way or another.

I would answer with something like the following:

Oh nothing much…How are you doing?

Or, How are things going with you?

Or, Anything new with you?

After a while they may subconsciously begin imitating your more interactive style. Or not…

It’s not really something people really put a whole lot of thought into. They are just making pleasantries subconsciously mimicking the current style. So if you consistently reply with something a little more logically coherent, they may unconsciously adopt your style.

I think making any kind of issue about it even in the kindest way possible would most likely make everything in the future needlessly awkward and self conscious. And that’s the opposite of what you are aiming for. Any of these mundane phrases are merely the grease that makes the wheels of any interaction function smoothly.

For years I was of the private opinion that greeting folks with “How are you?” served no purpose that they didn’t REALLY want to know. Even if my life were totally falling apart and heading for he’ll in a handbasket, expressing anything other than “Fine, and you?” would not be appropriate. So why the hypocrisy of asking?

But then I realized that I was just way way over-thinking the whole issue. People have to say something and it might just as well be pleasant. It just makes social interaction progress smoothly. Nothing more, nothing less.

janbb's avatar

“What’s up?” seems to have started as a standard greeting among young people in America about 10–15 years ago. At least, that’s when my sons started using it. My husband and I think it’s funny and often parrot the standard exchange ot each other, “What’s up?” “Not much, what’s up with you?” It seems meaningless to me, especially when they call and start by saying “What’s up?” My first inclination is to answer, “You called me – so something must be up with you.”

However, I have just come to accept that it is basically a conversational warmup – as meaningful or meaningless as many others. @Buttonstc I also don’t like being asked “How are you?” as a greeting; if you don’t want a real answer, why ask?

I really prefer just a “Hi,” but that seems to be swimming against the current (something we jellies are good at.)

ccrow's avatar

I generally say ‘what’s up’ meaning ‘what’s going on?’, generally in reference to something specific; like right after my husband has been on the phone, talking about having to go somewhere/do something, that sort of thing. I don’t use it as a greeting.

LostInParadise's avatar

I suspect the expression what’s up originated in the ghetto and was spread by youngsters. People talk about trickle down effects but nobody ever mentions bubble up effects. A lot of our language and fashion started out in the hood. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it would be nice if there were some more pressure in the other direction.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Really? Bugs Bunny’s been saying “What’s up, Doc?” since 1938, so you can reckon that it was commonly known for at least 5–10 years longer than that. Mel Blanc had to have heard it somewhere in New York!

Just say, “I’m fine, how are you?” and continue the interaction. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a really small annoyance and to ask people not to use it with you seems petty. Look to the larger good of that person acknowledging you and wanting to greet and talk to you. The spirit of the interaction and not the letter of it, so to speak. People do little things that tick me off too, but I’ve learned to let go of them. It’s over in a second or less and the next moment has arrived. What’s happening in this moment?

ccrow's avatar

If someone say’s ‘what’s up’ to me, I usually say, ‘Not much, what’s up w/you?’ But I guess I think of myself as a fairly uninteresting (even boring!) person. ;-)

DarkScribe's avatar

@aprilsimnel Really? Bugs Bunny’s been saying “What’s up, Doc?” since 1938, so you can reckon that it was commonly known for at least 5–10 years longer than that.

Yes, I completely forgot about Bugs Bunny. I do recall it from childhood.

janbb's avatar

Yes, “What’s up?” has been around as a synonym for “what’s happening?” for a long time, but as a conversational greeting, I think the usage is relatively new. In my observation, it has percolated up from the young and as @LostInParadise says, quite possibly came from the hood.

robmandu's avatar

‘Sup, dawg?

CMaz's avatar

That would be…

Wusssss up.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

it’s just used as an ice breaker, a standard way to open up vocal communication. It’s usually not used as a genuine inquiry about you’re life status, just as a way to get your attention and to show that they’re interested in talking to you.

deni's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 exactly but thats what makes it so annoying especially when the same people ask it every day. After one time of saying “not much, you?” it gets old.

@Buttonstc i agree and realize that i am overthinking the whole thing but it was just something I noticed at work and wondered if I was the only one. I’ve thought the same thing about “how are you”...I remember specifically thinking this the day I had a huge fight with my ex boyfriend, then drove to the mall and got everything valuable I own stolen out of my car, and moments later I ran into someone I knew. “How are you?” they said…“Great, you?” i replied. I suppose it’s just something to say and we pretty much have an automatic response regardless of what we really feel. Oh well!

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I do understand where you’re coming from. The term “what’s up” has just evolved to become an initial greeting, next time someone says that to you, just say hey back, instead of “nothing” or “not much” or what have you, the person you’re speaking to won’t find it odd or really even give it a second thought. It’s only a pain in the ass to you because you feel it’s essential to give them an answer, when it’s really not.

deni's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 True, I do feel like I need to answer the question even though the person asking could care less. Great settled, and on top of that nobody greeted me with “whats up” tonight at work!!!!! What a beautiful day.

sjmc1989's avatar

I totally agree with you. I never say “What’s up?” to anybody unless like you said they seem upset. I have even had some guys just text me “sup?” I mean really you can even give me enough effort to put “What’s up?” let alone “How are you doing?” Thats an automatic boot for me. Not “What’s up?” (even though I don’t prefer that) but the “Sup?”

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@sjmc1989 lol sup is brutal. I’m a pretty laid back kind of guy but that one definitely irks me.

DominicX's avatar

Eh…it does seem a little lazy sometimes, but today I ran into this guy who lives in my building that I had never met before and he walks past me and says “sup dude?” really enthusiastically and happily even though we had never spoken before. He seemed so nice. :)

Plus he had a cute smile…

deni's avatar

Sup IS brutal. However I do myself use it, but only when people know I am using it in a joking/making fun of it type of manner. Get it? I’m bad with words. So like, if it was someone I didn’t really know, I wouldn’t say “sup” because they might think I was serious…eek. hahaha.

@DominicX Enthusiasm…happy…stranger…great smile….there’s exceptions :)

Saturated_Brain's avatar

To be honest I’m always a little lost whenever somebody greets me with “What’s up?” I always find myself wondering what in the world can I say? That I’m busy working? That I wanna go to the bathroom really badly? That I’m just bored? Or is there some standard answer we’re supposed to give?

Blech. Sometimes people really do make me feel weird around them, especially when they’re being all cool about it

@DominicX Naughty naughty…. Don’t make me link Rory to here…

janbb's avatar

@Saturated_Brain The standard answer seems to be, “Not much. What’s up with you?” but I fail to see how that moves converstion forward at all.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@janbb Eurgh. This is why I prefer to greet my friends with a, “Hey”, wait for them to respond, then ask them, “What’re you doing?” Feels more.. sincere somehow..

tandra88's avatar

I guess it’s a slang term.

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