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."