May you sail in the ship of ambition and anchor in the harbour of success. As wishes go, a pretty good one, I admit. As metaphors go, nicer still. Except when I was growing, this wish got repeated so often that its worthiness was cheapened and its metaphoric value reduced to a bit of a joke.
It is one of the few things that I hold against the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation of old, what used to be known as Radio Ceylon. That, and the abundance of Jim Reeves, or Gentleman Jim, as he was fondly referred to. There’s only so much melancholy one can wallow in when growing up and Jim’s songs certainly didn’t provide ‘mood upliftment’ in the same way as, say, the songs of Slade and Sweet. (In my humble opinion, of course, as one is required to say these days out of social nicety.)
Anyhow, this isn’t really a trip down Memory Lane but a rather elaborate prelude, I admit, to the ‘wishing game’. It is a good thing to do (wish others) and we are a species that enjoys doing so — out of both goodness and fear. Well not fear exactly maybe, but a sense of trepidation mingled with courtesy.
As with the wish, ‘God bless you’ when someone sneezes. It has a sad history and is said to have emerged out of the Great Plague of the 1600s when sneezing was a common symptom and, because a person who sneezed was deemed to have the plague (and would die), it seemed appropriate to offer this wish.
The practice (of saying ‘God bless, that is, not of dying from the plague) has continued to today. So has ‘good morning’, ‘good day’, ‘good evening’ ‘good afternoon’ and ‘goodnight’. Of those, only the last is really an expression of parting. The Middle English Dictionary places the origin of ‘good morning’ in Arthurian times, offering this quote: The ‘gome graythely hym grette and bade gode morwen’. ‘Goodbye’ is apparently shortened to mean ‘God be with you’ (till we meet again, is implied.)
Then of course there’s the annual ‘Happy Birthday’ and its spin-off wishes such as ‘many happy returns of the day’. Over time, greetings have also become abbreviated. Of course, Australia is a place to come to, to meet ‘Mr Abbreviation’ face to face. Good day long ago ceased to be that, ceding way to g’day; hello is old-fashioned and more or less permanently replaced by Hi, although one still gets a ‘hiya’ from some.
Given our penchant for greeting others, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the greeting card was born (in which year it’s hard to ascertain) and has spawned a multibillion dollar industry. And here, at last, we have arrived at one of my few pet grouses. The greeting card, and its unworthiness. I have long held the notion that the time and money spent on buying a greeting card isn’t worth it, in relation to the time a person spends reading the card (and never ever opening it again.) Fifteen seconds, max! That’s not worth splashing out a huge some on. Or is it? For long I’ve encouraged friends not to send me greetings in a card. For long, most of them have respected that wish.
And now, it appears that with technology we may be turning an important corner. While our fondness for greeting others is itself showing no abatement (and that is a good thing), the manner in which we may now greet each other has changed considerably. The paper card has, I believe it, very nearly had its day. Long live the forests, I say. In the place of a greeting card, we now have a hundred different messenger apps on our phone, all programmed with an immediacy of delivery, too. By way of a greeting I offer a delayed welcome. To the greeting card: Good riddance, you never really justified the ride. Not in my humble opinion, at least.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.