Tag Archives: telephone greeting

Ahoy!

Did you ever wonder why we say “hello” when greeting someone? Well if you did, you’ve come to the right blog! I’ll be exploring the origins of words, phrases and names that are in everyday usage, many of which have curious and interesting backstories.

As for “hello,” variations of the word go back quite a way, with some of the earliest recorded uses being in the works of Shakespeare, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In Shakespeare’s day, “holla” was an exclamation that meant “stop,” which gradually evolved into a quick way to get someone’s attention (the English word “holler” derives from this usage). The word had many different spellings. The form we know today, “hello,” wasn’t in common use until the mid-nineteenth century, a scant one hundred and fifty years ago.

When the telephone was invented toward the end of the century, Alexander Graham Bell wanted to use the word “ahoy” as the standard phone greeting (“ahoy,” incidentally, is a nautical hail used to call attention to a “hoy,” which is a small vessel). Thomas Edison is credited with supplanting Bell’s “ahoy” with his preferred greeting, “hello.” Ammon Shea, author of The Phone Book, reports that this was also the greeting recommended in the first phone book. This book, published in New Haven, CT, in 1878, also recommended that people end a phone conversation with “that is all.” This would come across as rather formal and possibly rude today (if you don’t believe me, try ending your next phone call with your significant other that way). The word we use instead, “goodbye,” is actually a contraction of “God be with ye.”

That is all.

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