Louis Armstrong sings in What a Wonderful World

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

Why (or when) would friends use how do you do as it is supposed to be a formal answer to an introduction?

  • What a Wonderful World is fifty years old this year. A lot has changed in that time.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 18, 2017 at 16:55
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    "Saying how do you do" is simply an idiomatic way to say "greeting each other".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 18, 2017 at 17:16
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    (Think about what 'How do you do?" means. It is just another way to say "How are you doing?")
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 18, 2017 at 17:17
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    @Hot Licks: Exactly (your first comment). Someone might say "There's my priest! Let's go over and say hi to him", even if she wouldn't dream of actually greeting him with an informal usage like that. It's just an idiom that doesn't necessarily imply the specific greeting would be used verbatim. Aug 18, 2017 at 17:33
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1 Answer 1


The literal use of "How do you do?" to greet someone has been basically limited to the first meeting between strangers for the past 50 years that I know of. It's not really that "formal" in the sense that it wouldn't be used when meeting a friend of your buddy in a bar, but it's not normally used as a greeting between friends, or even acquaintances.

However, the expression "saying how do you do" is an idiomatic way to refer to people greeting each other. It's not that the words are literally said between the greeting parties, but rather someone in a group might say "I'll talk too you later, after I get my how-do-you-dos out of the way," or something similar.

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