8 Better Ways To Say 'Happy Birthday'
It's my birthday and I'll sigh if I want to.
Greetings card company Moonpig recently hilariously asked people to stop uploading their genitals to their signature customised cards. One user responded saying, "sorry I'll have a word with Gran...again."
But I can see why people resorted to this.
Today is my birthday, but if I hear you wishing me a 'happy birthday,' you'll be met with a cranky scowl.
It has nothing to do with my age (the 30's are glorious). It's the phrase. I loathe it.
I know I sound like a cantankerous old git before my time. But 'happy birthday' is one of the dullest and least original phrases in the English language, yet one we use the most often.
It’s well-meaning enough, but it’s so painfully anodyne it’s almost offensive. It ignores the number one rule of excellent communication: tailor for your audience.
Surely we can get more creative and original than this?
I’ve sometimes considered deliberately sending my happy returns a day late just so I can jazz up the stale phrase with the sexy prefix: ‘belated.’
Opening Facebook on your one special day of the year initially feels glorious (‘you have 700 new notifications’). But then you realise that 678 of them just say ‘happy birthday, have a good one.’ And half of them are from people you’ve met less than a dozen times.
READ MORE: Is This The World's Oldest Cat?
If you’ve met someone less than a dozen times, how about not wishing them a happy birthday at all (except for silently). Get to know them better. Then you might actually have something original or witty to say on their special day, rather than the single most tired, worn out and meaningless phrase in the English language.
Even the song is tired. The lyrics aren’t just tired. They’re exhausted. And beyond boring. The Stevie Wonder version is infinitely better -- adds a bit of soul to proceedings.
There’s a start. You have your soundtrack sorted. Now to get more inventive.
Verses in greetings cards themselves can feel ill-suited to providing the bespoke communications that persuade the recipient that some sort of effort has been made to make them feel special.
One friend used to have fun with my birthday -- sending me two birthday cards yearly -- one for me, and one for my forehead (so large, she argued, it warrants its own). I recently took up the habit of buying ‘with greatest sympathy’ cards, intended to comfort the grieving, for anyone aged over 43 (it’s my scary age). Inside I simply write: "Sorry you’re so old now."
There has to be a better way than this to inject some fun into the birthday lexicon. Here are eight ways to say happy birthday without actually saying ‘happy birthday.’
1. Affectionate invective
Have you noticed how greetings cards have cottoned on to how dull the birthday vernacular is? In response, greeting cards have become increasingly puerile or aggressive -- 'Happy Birthday, YOU RANCID OLD WHORE' -- they scream.
An affectionate insult, rather than an aggressive or puerile one, can spice things up a little. I like being called a verbose ginger midget on my birthday. It affirms my identity. And it’s bespoke.
2) Three compliments
If pejorative just ain’t your jam, how about three thoughtful, specific compliments for the birthday girl or boy? Can be done in their card or on Facebook. Birthday compliments. Make it a thing.
3) Excessive formality
Returns of the manifold and felicitous variety are infinitely more interesting than ‘many happy returns.’ Reinvent the wheel. Get playful with language. Expose character, colour and, most of all, uniqueness. Both in you and your intended recipient.
4) A poem
Instead of the tired old phrase happy birthday
Let’s get into some fun linguistic play
We can surely all do better than the status quo
Please promise me you’ll give it a go
You don’t have to resort to being rude or crass
Just inject some thought, effort and a little sass
And honestly I can’t think of a better way
Than personalised rhyming couplets on the special day
5) Tell a joke
Anything’s better than those four dull syllables; even dad jokes.
6) Gift the birthday recipient with a classic quote
Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, Mae West -- the queens and kings of the one-liner may help you out if you’re not feeling very original and in need of inspiration.
Maybe leave out those irritating saccharine Instagram positive mantras, vom. It’s a birthday, not a wake.
I’ll be plagiarising Groucho Marx on my birthday party: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
7) Is it the birthday of your partner or someone you’ve started dating?
Ask them Mandy Len Catron’s ‘36 questions to fall in love.’
I think these are great to get to know new friends, too. Fascinating. And would make their birthday memorable!
8) Say it in a foreign language
Here are 35 ways to say it in another language to add spice, colour and flavour. Our neighbours do it best -- French has the most class (obvs) -- so much so it deserves italics: Joyeux Anniversaire. And German sounds like a command deserving caps lock: ALLES GUTE ZUM GEBURTSTAG.
Mine is October 19th. Feel free to get in touch. But you have been warned.