You Had Me at ‘Hello”

Have you ever wondered why we say what we say? Who decided the greeting when answering your phone should be “Hello”? Someone had to! We thought we’d explore a little bit of history, and what we found was pretty interesting.

First, a little history of the telephone. The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, but soon after found a competitor in Thomas Edison. How would they differentiate themselves and their products? Here’s where the importance of the greeting comes in.

Bell instructed the users of his telephone to say “Ahoy,” a common-practice greeting, while Edison preferred “Hello.” According to NPR, at the time “Hello” was a fairly new word in the average person’s vocabulary, dating back to 1827. “Ahoy” is about 100 years older and, at the time, more familiar to the masses. History shows who prevailed in that battle. Today, saying “Hello” when answering the phone is just common sense!

How was phone etiquette dispersed? Simple. The phone book! The first phone book was published in 1878 and included a quick How-To, indicating the user should use “Hello”, or “Hulloa”, as a greeting. The first edition of the phone book was dispersed to 50 subscribers in the United States. Now with the world’s population in the billions, most of which know how to operate a telephone, it’s amazing to see the impact one decision had on the world.

Common Worldwide Greetings

English - American — hello (formal), hi (informal), hey (informal,) yo (informal)
English - England — How do you do? (formal), Good Morning (formal), Good Afternoon (formal), Good Evening (formal) hello (less formal), HowDo? (informal), Watchya (informal), Alright (informal) hi (informal), Hiya (informal)
Egyptian Arabic — Salaam Alekum (sulam ulakume)
French — salut (informal; silent ‘t’), allo,bonjour (formal, for daytime use; ‘n’ as a nasal vowel, pronounced “bon-shore”)
German - Traditional — hallo (informal), Guten Tag (formal; pronounced gootan taag), Tag (very informal; pronounced tahg)
Hawaiian — aloha (pronounced ah-low-ha)
Hindi — नमस्ते, namaste (nah-mah-STAY)
Italian — ciào (pronounced chow; informal; also means “goodbye”)
Portuguese — oi, boas, olá or alô (informal)
Russian — Privet! (pronounced as pree-vyet; informal)
Spanish — hola (pronounced with a silent ‘h’: o-la)