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Hello





One of the more common greetings you likely use in everyday English is probably not as old as you might think.  It was only around the 1880s when we started to use the word hello to greet others.  Hello was just a variation on now-archaic greetings like halloo, hullo and holla, among others.  Hello was originally an Americanism, and was considered informal, though inoffensive, and it soon found a specific niche.  The telephone had been invented in 1876, and since this was a new way of communicating, many felt that it needed a specific greeting.  Alexander Graham Bell, who held the patent for the telephone and was starting to set up telephone systems, originally promoted ahoy as a telephone greeting.  It makes sense, since that’s the word you use to call to others across long distances.  Ahoy has nautical associations, since sailors would frequently have to call out from ship to ship, but the word was often used on land, as well.  However, despite Mr. Bell’s urgings, hello became the preferred telephone greeting.  (Operating manuals for the first American telephone systems in the late 1870s sometimes suggested answering the phone with hello, and sometimes suggested What is wanted?  Gee, how come that one never caught on?)

Next time you’re watching The Simpsons and you hear the cartoonishly old Mr. Burns answer the phone “Ahoy-hoy!” you’ll understand why.

Image result for Monty Burns telephone
Monty Burns: the last holdout of the "Ahoy-hoy!" salutation.

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