I have a friend who lives alone and on mornings when he wakes and feels depressed he dials New York City information, asks for a phone number, listens and waits for the operator to say, "Have a nice day."

He claims he feels a little better after hearing it, but it could be overdone.

While in New York recently I heard from a restaurant owner that a writer friend of mine passed away and services were being held later that day in a Brooklyn funeral parlor. He knew the name but not the address.

So I went to the phone, dialed information, got the number and was told to have a nice day.

I then dialed the funeral parlor; the receptionist gave me the address and told me to have a nice day.

Unlike D.C. cabdrivers who "nice day" you to death, New York cabbies do not wish you to have any kind of a day. In D.C., I have a scale for tipping cabdrivers. I start with 20 cents. Ten cents is added if the driver is not listening to Paul Harvey. Another 10 cents if the driver is white and doesn't make a racist remark when a black crosses in front of the cab. If the driver is black and doesn't feel the need to make some "Uncle Tom" remark he gets 10 cents more. Ten cents more if he doesn't have a no smoking sign.

And 20 cents more if he doesn't say "Have a nice day."

The saying has become hollow of meaning.

A friend who volunteers to help an elderly woman do her shopping told me that when a clerk tells the older woman to have a nice day, she becomes confused and says, "Why should I have a nice day? I'm old and tired."

One morning a woman from GEICO called to inform me that the company was canceling my automobile policy, and she added, "Have a nice day."

Another morning I spent in an auto garage, getting a high estimate for a repair. As I walked away, numbed from the impending expense, the mechanic told me to have a nice day.

At the drug store where I picked up some out-of-town papers, I just knew what the clerk was going to say when she handed me my change. That's because she said the same thing to the three persons who preceded me in line.

When I stopped by a liquor store, which is now owned by Vietnamese, the manager told me in broken English, you know what.

Same thing at the small market near my house. It's owned by Koreans. The young woman behind the register, who barely speaks English, was quite fluent in her wish for me to have a nice day.

Even the mailman. One time he had just delivered a stack of bills. He stopped to talk about the weather, then went off to his rounds, calling over his shoulder, "Have a nice day."

I began to wonder at what time in late afternoon people stop saying "Have a nice day," realizing that few people say, "Have a nice evening."

Etymologists have put the blame for this maddening saying on Chaucer, who wrote in his "Canterbury Tales": "And hoom wente every man the righte way, there was namoore but, 'Fare wel, have a good day.' "

I discussed this verbal epidemic with a friend one day and he suggested, "You have to get the jump on them. You tell them to have a nice day and they don't know what to say."

So one day when the man painting our house called and said he couldn't show up I told him to have a nice day. That caught him off guard.