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To start off let us construct a situation were I am walking along and I pass another person. Depending on the time of day and to be polite I say one of the following:

  1. "Good Morning!"
  2. "Good Evening!"
  3. "Good Night!"
  4. "Good Day!"

Now 1 and 2 are common welcoming and polite gestures and I have no problem with their use. However the problem lies with 3: Why is it so dismissive compared with 1 and 2?

If I said "Good Night!" to somebody when walking at around 11 p.m why does it sound like I am putting them to bed?

Finally as a related matter, why is 4 not used too often? In other languages 4 seems to be more common then an equivalent "Hello!" and sometimes 4 and "Hello!" posses the same.meaning.

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To be not dismissive, use Good Evening (even at midnight!?), instead, it's just the convention. Use Good Night to suggest an end to the conversation for the day. –  Kris Jan 6 at 11:15
    
As for why not Good Day, once again it is the convention, not language as such, just as you could ask why Good Morning and not Fine Morning? After all, we do say Have a nice day, don't we all? –  Kris Jan 6 at 11:18
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When you say “Good [time of day]”, you are essentially wishing someone a pleasant [time of day]. One mostly wishes someone a pleasant night (in the older sense, which refers not to just late evening, but more or less to the time when most people normally sleep) when saying goodbye to them for the day, not expecting to see them until the next day. I find it more interesting that ‘good day’ (which means ‘hello’ in all other Germanic languages) has come to be unambiguously dismissive in English, i.e., “May you enjoy the rest of your day, for I shall have nothing more to do with you now!”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 6 at 12:01
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Have you not read Tolkien's humorous exploitation of the different semantic and pragmatic senses of 'Good Morning!'? –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 6 at 12:21
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Question: If I say "Good Night!" to somebody when walking at around 11pm, why does it sound like I am putting them to bed? Answer: Because that's what we say when we are putting children to bed. –  J.R. Jan 6 at 12:50

2 Answers 2

In American English, "good morning," "good afternoon," and "good evening" are all commonly used as greetings.

"Good day," by contrast, can actually be used fairly dismissively in its own right, especially if there is a name or title following it: "Good day, madame!" or, more famously, "Good day, sir!"

"Good night," on the other hand, tends to be used as a farewell rather than a greeting. To some extent, I suspect this is a psychological matter: even though we often use "night" as a substitute for "evening," I think in general we associate "night" with much later times than "evening," where we're not normally expecting to have company. Therefore, using "good night" in that manner seems unnatural.

It's the same principle in other languages, such as French and German. You'd use "Bonsoir" or "Guten Abend" as a greeting, but not "Bonne nuit" or "Gute Nacht."

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The question asks why this should be so. –  Matt Эллен Jan 6 at 16:04
    
I've revised the answer a bit. –  aeismail Jan 6 at 16:41

All of those can be a greeting or a dismissal, depending on how you enunciate.

"Good xxxx!" is a perfectly acceptable way to hail an acquaintance, and can also be used to dismiss someone you don't wish to speak to any more.

"Good night!" is a less common greeting than the others, but still acceptable.

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At least in modern US usage, I do not think you will find Good night as a greeting, but only as a departing statement (and often shortened to Night). –  bib Jan 6 at 14:15
    
I've only ever noticed "Good night" used when someone is actually going to bed (and not just children), synonymous with "Sleep well", so using it as a more general salutation, related to time of day and not action, would certainly sound dismissive or downright inappropriate. Is this the norm elsewhere? –  nxx Jan 7 at 12:30

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