“Hey” is for horses

Working in admissions gives me the opportunity to have frequent contact with interested parties and applicants to the Full-time UST MBA program.  Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in tone when it comes to email messages from those with questions.  Overall, there seems to be a lax feeling with many emails to the point that I’ve received notes that use simply “Hey” for their salutation.  This gives me reason for reflection.

If you look in Webster’s dictionary, you’ll discover that the word “hey” is defined as “an interjection used especially to call attention or to express interrogation, surprise, or exultation.”  Traditionally, “hey” was solely an exclamation.  Sometimes it expressed delight, sometimes a warning.  These days we find it used for emphasis, as a greeting, or as a short version of “how are you?”   It is a close cousin to the informal salutation “hi,” which it seems to be replacing in many situations.

When it comes to using this greeting in emails or in person, my advice is to play it safe.  Address people as “Dear Mr./Ms.”  The word “hey” is not your best option when addressing those with whom you aren’t familiar.  A professional setting begs for professional language.