Sometimes I say “Howdy.”
It slips out. And I’m always astonished, and a bit embarrassed. I wince. I suspect I use it unthinkingly because I once adopted it purposefully, thinking it a very disarming way to say hello — that you can’t be hostile or perceived as hostile when you say “Howdy,” just as you can’t be sad playing the banjo. But now “Howdy” comes out even when I don’t intend it to, and the uncontrollable nature of it is a bit embarrassing.
The same thing happened to me several years ago when I started saying either “Golly,” “Gosh” or both with ironic intent. The words quickly ran away from me or, more accurately, started forcing me to run with them. And when something momentous would occur, or I was told or overheard something striking or important, I would find myself murmuring, against my will, long after the abandonment of the irony, “Golly.” Or “Gosh.”
I can’t remember which. But I distinctly recall the same wince that “Howdy” brings, as though my pants had fallen to my ankles and I was revealed to be wearing Underoos — that I’d accidentally given people a glimpse not of my dark side, but of the moronically innocent side that has no idea what’s going on, isn’t worth listening to and possibly still wets the bed.
In context: Fine. But on me: Wrong, awkward, disturbing. And somehow, ultimately, hostile, because the irony has become impossible to gauge.
In terms of my other linguistic experiments gone awry, or unconscious adoptions over the years, the “Y’all” that I incongruously picked up in Europe seems to have faded well, but I still let the modifier “bloody” seep into conversation.
God forbid they all become unleashed at once here in New England into a monstrous, “Howdy, y’all. Golly, it’s a bloody nice day.”