Abbreviation in Greetings

As I enter or exit my dormitory, I pass a desk that is manned or womanned at all hours.  Because of the countless entrances and exits each day, it is no surprise that the attendant doesn’t want to issue full Czech greetings to everyone he or she meets.  Thus, the attendant man became my Czech teacher.  I would enter the dormitory with a dobrý den (good day) or dobrý večer (good evening) on my lips.  What did I get back?  Dobrý.  Good.

And I realized how much more pleasant this is than our American hacking of the greeting.  Rather than shortening their greeting to the time of day, as we do, Czechs shorten their greetings to dobrý or “good.”  It sounds much more logical to wish each other well throughout the day rather than remind each other of the time of day, which I feel is what the American greeting becomes reduced to.  The “good” isn’t as important as the reminder of what time of day it is.  Mornin’!  G’ afternoon.  ‘Night. 

Moreover, I’ve noticed that there is more grey area in the timing of greetings here.  Typically, if I am choosing between “good morning” or “good afternoon” in English, I merely look at my watch and the decision is made.  In my experience, however, the transition from dobré rano to dobrý den is amorphous and is often determined by how long someone has been awake.  I greet the secretaries at the school with a dobré rano at 7:30 AM, and they sometimes return a dobrý den. 

Yet my determination to judge the Czech abbreviation as superior is a bit simplistic, and ignores the sounds of the words.  “Dobrý flows off the tongue better than an abrupt “den, just as “morning” flows better than an awkward “good.”  The function of abbreviation is to make speech convenient, as is noticed in the abbreviation of the common greeting of “mej se hezky”  (“have a nice day” or literally, “have to yourself nicely”) to “mej se.”  Conversely, the greeting can be “Hezký den!“ which changes the translation to “Nice day!” and removes the verb.  So, whether short or long, I wish you deliberateness with your greetings.

Tak . . . dobrý, mejte se, a nashledanou.


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