Once upon a time, when cars ran on leaded gas and you didn't have to dial an area code in order to call someone a few towns over, people greeted each other with a completely coherent phrase. Usually this was a "good morning", or a "good day", or, if later on, a "good evening". Men, who wore hats during this era (sorry, Safety Dance fans), would tip their hats. Granted, not every person did this every time, but it was pretty much the societal norm.
As time went on, the greetings changed and evolved (devolved?) as society became a little looser, a bit more casual. People started incorporating the phrase "How are you!" as their standard greeting (as well as its sloppier version, "Heyhowareya!").
Next came "Howzitgoin?", a corrupted form of "How's it going?", which was an even more casual form of "How are you"? Now, the thing is, you'd think that people who are greeting you this way are doing so out of a genuine desire to know how you are. This is false. This is just a greeting. It is in no way meant to be construed as the beginning of a conversation about how you are doing, as evidenced by the following exchange:
Co-Worker #1: Hey, how's it going?
Co-Worker #2: Oh man, not so well. I didn't sleep very well last night because I've been so worried about things. My son's become a Scientologist and my daughter's run off to Las Vegas to become a showgirl, and for the life of me I don't know which is worse. Then my wife has post nasal drip, which sounds like a disgusting cereal, you know, "Buy Post Nasal Drip, part of this balanced breakfast", but of course, there is no cereal like that. And my car's making a funny noise, which means expensive repair bills. I also think I'm suffering from ED, but I don't want to take Cialis, because I really hate the idea of having to sit in a tub in the middle of a large field and, hey! COME BACK HERE!!!
No. "How's it going?" Is not a question. It's a greeting. At least it was, until it was supplanted by "Hey!"
That's right: "Hey!" In our fast-paced world, who has time to speak in full phrases, let alone sentences. You see a co-worker approaching, you smile, give a small wave and go "Hey!". And they go "Hey!" back (unless of course they're a total douche or bitch, depending on the gender at hand, in which case, to Hell with them).
So, it's now perfectly acceptable to greet people with a "Hey!". I personally have been experimenting with an even more truncated greeting. Many times, at work, when there's an oncoming fellow employee walking down the hall, I do the following, taking my cue from an aggregate of experiences from these fine folk.
A brief nod of the head. This establishes recognition.
A small upturn of one corner of my mouth, a sort of half-smile. This establishes my pleasure at seeing this person. A full smile is not needed; let's not get too emotional here.
Occasionally, I'll throw in a raised eyebrow, which further establishes my friendliness towards the target.
A grunt. Usually I mutter "vert", or "nerp", or "gurf". This fulfills the vocal requirement, and most people simply assume I'm saying "Hi", or "Hey", or something like that. After all, by the time you utter the word of greeting, they're most likely already 12 Smoots past you, but the mind automatically fills in the proper greeting, based on the simple cue of grunting.
I admit, sometimes I will give a big old "hello" to someone I see, especially if my mood is good and the person appears to be in a friendly, approachable mood.
Then there's the lounge lizard/gameshow host/Manny Ramirez greeting of pointing at someone with both index fingers, a big grin on your face, and clearly a jazzed expression of "Heeeeyyyy, howzitgoin?", without actually uttering those words. This can be tricky to pull off. Personally, it's occurred to me that I do it in only two instances: if I run into someone I really like, or if I run into someone I really can't stand. The former requires no explanation. The latter? I think it's because I know that if I give out an over-the-top greeting like that, it will override my more knee-jerk urge to say something like "Shut up, run out into traffic and DIE!".
So there you have it. The common American greeting, from "Good day" to "gurf".
HANDY WORKPLACE TIP OF THE DAY: This is a valuable piece of advice if you wear some form of employee ID on your belt. If you go into a bathroom stall to do your business and you're wearing such a tag, make sure to turn it over so that no one can ascertain your identity. That way, if you're in there making hideous bowel noises that are reminscent of the cries of a wounded dirigible defending its young, or creating a stench so bad that it causes everyone in the bathroom to undergo a past life regression to the time they suffered a mustard gas attack during World War One, no one will know who you are, and you can unleash the Fifth Horseman in complete anonymity.