KINGSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- In this friendly little ranching town, "hello" is wearing out its welcome. And Leonso Canales Jr. is happy as heck.
At his urging, the Kleberg County commissioners on Monday unanimously designated "heaven-o" as the county's official greeting. The reason: "hello" contains the word "hell."
"When you go to school and church, they tell you 'hell' is negative and 'heaven' is positive,'" said the 56-year-old Canales, who owns the Kingsville Flea Market. "I think it's time that we set a new precedent, to tell our kids that we are positive adults."
The new salutation, according to the county resolution, is a "symbol of peace, friendship and welcome" in this "age of anxiety."
On Thursday, courthouse employees were answering the phones, "heaven-o." And the chamber of commerce was working on a campaign promoting Kingsville, a Rio Grande Valley town of 25,000, as a "heavenly" place to visit.
"People seem to think that it might catch on," said county Judge Pete De La Garza.
Not everyone is a convert to Kleberg County's heavenly ways. Madolyn Musick, who runs a bookstore, insisted, and linguists would agree, that "hello" has nothing to do with "hell." Besides, she added, "What's wrong with, 'Howdy, y'all?'"
Canales, a Catholic but not a regular churchgoer, has been as serious as heck about "hello" since 1988, when he told his brother he might start greeting people with "God-o." His brother suggested "heaven-o" instead.
David Sabrio, a professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, noted that the Oxford English Dictionary says "hello" stems from an old German greeting for hailing a boat.
"Linguistically and historically, the word 'hello' has no connection at all with what we associate with the underworld," he said. "People may make that connection in their own mind. I certainly don't."