If used as a salutation, what does "What do you say?" mean?

Is it a substitution for "how are you doing"? Perhaps some other question regarding my current state of mind? I really have no idea.

Whenever posed with this question I respond "hello", but that doesn't seem correct either.

I've tried searching for the origins of this question, and I believe it comes from "what say you", which means to ask what decision/recommendation have you arrived at.

If I were to take that meaning, I would assume to respond with some sort of remark on the current location or other obvious circumstance, such as "this is a nice location". But often times there doesn't appear to be an obvious enough circumstance, and certainly no other implied question or decision/study previously made.

How do I navigate out of that question unscathed?

  • 1
    It's a good job you don't live in Lincolnshire, UK, where "Now, then" is the standard greeting. I suggest you just recognise these expressions for what they are (empty words) and respond with the equivalent in your own idiolect (if you're really stuck, "Hello/Hi" will always get you by). Feb 29, 2012 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Yes, it is a familiar, colloquial expression that is used as a substitution for "How are you?" or "How are things?" or "How's it going?" or any of dozens of possible expressions.

Like any such greeting — cf. "How's it hanging?" — it is not meant to be taken as a literal request for specific information. If you are addressed in such a manner it is usually enough simply to respond that you are fine (this can be true even if you're not fine — bland, non-committal greetings such as this should not be viewed as an invitation to go into great detail about your problems).

  • At least with every other non-committal greeting I'm familiar with, they can at least be interpreted as a actual question, then given a generalized answer. For example, I can actually answer "how I'm doing", as generally or honestly as I want. "What do you say?" there doesn't seem to be a real-alternative for an answer. I somehow can't see answering "what do you say?" with "fine", then again... having just said "fine" does verify that I say "fine", technically. Feb 29, 2012 at 18:25
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    @GorchestopherH: True, you would answer with something appropriately non-committal. "What do you say?" usually elicits "Not much" or "Can't complain" from people. What they would not do is answer with a lengthy list of issues. The greeting is not a request for a diatribe.
    – Robusto
    Feb 29, 2012 at 19:00
  • Ah ha, this is what I was looking for. "Not much" I think "note much" will be my go-to response to that question. I knew that I needed a non-committal response, but I wasn't sure what form it should take, but this answers that question. Thank you. Feb 29, 2012 at 19:21
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    A good response is "same as always". Then, if it really was a question (following up on an earlier dialogue), you haven't said the wrong thing.
    – user16269
    Mar 1, 2012 at 0:47
  • @DavidWallace That one sounds great! Unfortunately the first time I was asked that question was while meeting someone for the first time. Mar 1, 2012 at 14:56

It's pretty much a greeting. I live in the Southern United States and a common greeting from an older gentlemen is, "What say you there, John?"

I dunno what the hell it means, I just assume it's like saying: "What's up?", so I just say: "Same shit, different day."

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