Here’s Why We Say ‘Hello’ When We Answer A Call

“Hello?” all of us this greeting with most of us never questioning why. In fact, even though the word is English, we use the same word while conversing in our mother tongues over the phone.

Alexander Graham Bell, invented the telephone in 1876 and thanks to him, we are able to gossip for long hours with our friends and family to feel connected. Not just that, we are also able to make emergency calls for situations that demand urgent attention.

However, answering a call with the conventional ‘hello’ wasn’t Bell’s idea. You’ll be surprised to know that as per a report published in National Public Radio, ‘When Bell invented the phone, Alexander Graham Bell, he didn’t use `hello’ at all. He used ‘ahoy.’ He used it twice, ‘Ahoy.
Ahoy.’ Ahoy was a nautical call often used by ships and boats to call for attention.

Photo: npr.org

The word ‘hello’ that is said to have originated from the Old German word, ‘halâ, holâ’ which was used to hail a ferryman, as per Oxford English Dictionary. The first written use of ‘hello’ with that spelling was done in the United States in 1826. Alternatively, hello could also be derived from ‘hallo’  which was a shout to call for attention during hunting. The word ‘hallo’ is found in William Shakespeare’s work, Coriolanus.

Years later, when Bell invented the telephone it was Thomas Edison to used to term as a greeting to answer the phone! Yes, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb. He urged people to use this word as a greeting.

Edison wrote to T.B.A. David, the president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company of Pittsburgh on August 15, 1877. As per a work by Professor Allen Koenigsberg titled ‘The First “Hello!”: Thomas Edison, the Phonograph and the Telephone – Part 2’ he said:

‘Friend David,

I do not think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.

What you think? Edison – P.S. first cost of sender & receiver to manufacture is only $7.00.’

It is after this that we all began using the word ‘hello’ and continue using it (except of course for the occasional’hmm’ and ‘yes’).

Ammon Shea, author of The First Telephone Book told the National Public Radio that hello succeeded because ‘the first phone books included authoritative ‘How To’ sections on their first pages and “hello” was frequently the officially sanctioned greeting. In fact, the first phone book ever published, by the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878 (with 50 subscribers listed) told users to begin their conversations with “a firm and cheery ‘hulloa.”

Interestingly, there was a way suggested to end conversations as well – ‘That is all’. But we have completely ignored that, we instead use ‘bye’.

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Heer Khant
Heer Khant

Traveller | Writer | Photographer | Maverick | Social Worker | Lawyer | A freedom-loving woman for whom words are like wings to her soul. She believes in aliens, hates boundaries and lives like the first human on Earth.

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