Thursday, July 18

Hello: In the Past and Today

Hello” is a very common expression. We use it as a greeting or as a way to catch someone’s attention. We can hear it every day, everywhere. And it has become so ordinary that we don’t wonder anymore where this word came from.

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There are some interesting stories about the origin of this word.

The Beginning of “Hello”

There are a lot of stories that try to explain the origin of “Hello,” but 2 of them are the most widely accepted.

1. In the beginning, there were the words “halâ” and “holâ” in the Old High German language. These words are a form of imperative (command or request). People during that time would shout “halâ” and “holâ” across the water to call a ferryman or boatman. And because Old English is a dialect that came from Old High German, the Saxon invaders brought them to England.

2. In the beginning, there was the word “holà” in Old French. During that time, “h” wasn’t a silent letter.   Hunters would shout to each other “holà(Hey there! Whoa there!) to identify themselves. And because the Norman French ruled England for centuries, the influence was made.


Old Germanic: halâ and holâ >>> hallo and hollo >>> hello


Old French: holà >>>holla >>> hello

These separate words (halâ, holâ, and holà) may have also helped each other in making “hello.”

The Inventor of “Hello

Our next story takes place in the mid-1800s. In those days, there was no way to communicate with another person except face to face. Or you could use the telegraph but you would have to send your message in code. Can you imagine such a world today? We are so familiar with convenient devices like cellphones that it’s a little hard to believe there was such a time.

If you would like to read an essay about technology and modern society, just click this link:

Let’s go back to our story. Two people play an important role: the inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Alva Edison.

As you might know, Alexander Graham Bell is generally considered to be the "Father of the Telephone." But in fact the making of the telephone involved the work of many different individuals, not only him. And the invention of the phone had a long and controversial history.

Another inventor who had an interest in the field in those days was Thomas Alva Edison. He may not have invented the telephone and he is not a direct rival to Bell, but he definitely helped improve it.

In addition, when the telephone was a new device, Alexander Graham Bell usually answered calls with the expression: “ahoy-hoy.”

Ahoy-hoy” came from the expression “ahoy,” which was a sailor’s call or greeting. Bell liked “ahoy-hoy” as a telephone greeting because it was easily and clearly heard over long distance, which was very important during that time.

And then (maybe luckily for modern people), Edison proposed a different expression. He wrote a letter in 1877 to the president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company of Pittsburgh. In the letter, he suggested his favorite telephone greeting:

Friend David, I do not think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.What do you think?

By 1889, central telephone exchange operators were called “hello-girls.” This showed the deep connection between the telephone and “hello” as a greeting.

This is the reason why, today, we always use “hello” when we answer the telephone or when we start a telephone conversation.


Hello. Who’s this?

Hello. Who’s calling, please?

Hello. May I speak to ____, please?

Because of the story above, some people believe that Thomas Alva Edison invented the word “Hello.” But sources say that the expression may have already been popular before he proposed it.  

The Modern “Hello”

Hallo” and “hullo” are other versions (British) of “hello.”

These days, “hello” is used not only as a form of greeting when we see or meet someone. But this use is still the most basic.


Hello there! How are you?

Hello, my name is ____.

You can also use “hello” in these situations:

1. When you call to get someone’s attention


Hello? Is anybody here? 

Hello! We’re over here!

2. When you think someone is not acting as a sensible person or after they have said a stupid thing. In other words, you are questioning the common sense, intelligence, or comprehension of somebody.


You’re actually going to put your hand inside that machine?! Hello!

You’re going to date her? Hello!

Hello! You’ll get a tattoo now and go to your job interview tomorrow?

3. You think somebody is naïve or slow to realize something, or somebody is not paying attention to what’s happening.


Hello? Have you been on Mars or something?

You don’t know it’s her birthday today? Hello!

4. You want to express surprise or interest


Well, hello! What do we have here?

Hello. What’s that he’s holding?

5. The phrase “say hello” – This means to have a quick conversation with someone.


I need to say hello to a few people.

Drop in and say hello when you have time.

Other Greetings

Aside from “hello,” you can also use other greetings:

  • Hi / Hiya = informal version of “Hello

  • All right?  = informal greeting. Its meaning is a combination of “Hello” and “How are you?”


A: All right, mate?

B: All right. And you?

  • How do you do? = greeting used in formal and polite situations. However, use this only when you meet someone for the first time

For more info, read this:

  • Nice to see you.  = This is another way of saying “hello.” But use this to someone that you already know.


Jim! Nice to see you!

  • Long time no see.  = You can use this greeting to a close friend that you haven’t seen for a long time.


Hey, John! Long time no see!

About the grammar of this greeting, please read: 

  • Howdy = This is an informal greeting (especially American English, Western, particularly the Southwest and rural)


Well, howdy. It’s nice to see you.

Hope You Learned Something!

Keep on learning !

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