By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

How do we love 'how'?

I ran into Mike Hamilton the other day. I hadn’t seen him for ages.

“Hi, Elaine,” he said. “How are you?”

“Fine,” I said. “How are you, Mike?”

We chatted for a bit there in the accountant’s office waiting for appointments, and then Mike, a longtime McMinnvillan, said, “By the way, Elaine, I have an idea for a column for you.”

I love it when someone suggests a column idea. I couldn’t wait to hear it.

Said Mike, “Why don’t you do a column about the word ‘how’? We use that word about as much as any in the English language. And do you realize how many uses it has?”

I admitted that I hadn’t noticed. Then he began explaining this word “how.”

When we’re introduced to someone, “how’ is usually the first word we hear: “How do you do.”

But that isn’t a question. Rather, it is an introductory term. The person to whom we’re being introduced often responds in like manner with a “How do you do.” That person probably would be quite surprised, if, after you hear his “How do you do,” you then told him that indeed you had had a bad cold last week but that you were now over it, except for a nagging cough.

Since talking with Mike I’m discovering just what a crutch this “how” word can be in conversations.

As when you’re going down Third Street and meet a friend whose face is familiar but you have no clue as to when or where you have previously met. He sees you, stops and extends his hand. He says, “Hello, how are you?”

“Hi,” you reply, with hand extended. And now it is necessary that you say at least something else. So you ask, “How is everything with you? How good to see you.”

Now your nameless friend responds with his round of hows — perhaps not knowing your name, and hoping that his hows are apropos. “How’s your spouse? How is your family? How are things going?”

When you encounter someone whose name or any other information you are unable to recall, resort to hows. Hows are invaluable.

I now am realizing that “how” is the most used word in many of my conversations, as when I talk to my stockbroker. He comes on the line and I ask, “How’s the market today?”

He advises that it’s up. “How’s my Apple stock today?” I next ask. He brings me up to date on that and reminds me that it is important to remember how that company’s enormous stockpile of cash is indeed a fine security blanket.

“How” was the most important word in that conversation.

Likewise, in many phone calls I note my dependence on hows.

I call my sister-in-law in Monument whom I seldom see. We talk only by phone, and without my hows, I’d be at a loss for conversational entries. First, I say, “Hi, how are you?” She tells me how she is and now she wants to know how I am.

Next I ask, “How’s the weather up there?” She replies that they had just a little skiff of snow a couple of weeks ago but that it’s now gone. “How about your weather?” she asks. “Has it been cold?”

Weather is now taken care of, so I move to the next how. “How’s the grass coming?” I ask. East of the mountains, grass is vitally important to cattle ranchers who must feed their cattle until the pasture is sufficient to take the place of that feed.

Now I want to know how she is feeling since she had the flu the last time I talked with her. And I’m curious, too, about how high the John Day is and if that river has taken out any fences this year. Then she wants to know how I’m progressing after my bout of bursitis.

Before hanging up, we do the rounds of hows as to “how” her kids are and she wants to know “how” Mitch and Louann are. And when I say goodbye, I’m convinced I could not have carried on that telephone conversation without hows.

How also is fine for memory recall. Such as, “Remember how we used to water ski on the Yamhill River?” And, “How did we ever manage to walk on those stiletto heels?”

And how is a learning tool, a means of obtaining information, as per, “How many minutes am I supposed to bake those scones you gave me the recipe for?” Or, “How did that financial cliff ever happen to be?”

And how can be a compliment, as in, “How nice you look.”

And one of my most frequent uses of how is when I’m shopping: “How much does it cost?” Or the phrase I learn first when going to a foreign country: “How do I get to the bathroom?”

But now comes the most important usage of “how.” It’s when it’s used as an appeal, an entreaty, a plea for help, or for answers.

When I saw Annie last week, she was working on her income taxes. “How on earth am I going to get this done by April 15?” she asked.

Friend Molly is going to move and is faced with the packing and accompanying logistics. “How will I ever be able to manage all that?” she wonders. Dog-lover Diane’s beloved cocker spaniel had to be put to sleep. “However am I going to get along without Curly?” the disconsolate dog lover asks.

Of all its uses and meanings, the most profound use for how is with regard to our dilemmas, problems, troubles, worries.

You ask yourself, “How am I going to get through this?”

And then you again just use the word “how.”

“How” provides the answer.

Tell yourself in a confident voice: “This is how I shall do it.”

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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