22 May 2017
If you’re the kind of person that thinks ‘hiya’ is too casual, ‘hey’ is too American, ‘howdy’ is waaaay too American’ and ‘wassup’ should only ever be uttered in an ironic way, chances are you probably say ‘hello’ when you meet someone or write to them. But did you know that ‘hello’ as a salutation is a fairly recent development?
In fact, it was only when we started using the ol’ dog and bone that we adopted ‘hello’ as a greeting. From the early 1800s, ‘hello’ had only been used to express surprise: ‘Hello, what’s all this then?’ Or to attract attention ‘Hello! Get out of the way of the horse!’
It was inventor Thomas Edison who is thought to have initiated the use of hello as a greeting when answering the telephone, preferring it to the rather clunky ‘do I get you?’ or ‘are you there?’. Alexander Graham Bell, the actual inventor of the telephone, preferred the more common ‘ahoy’, and always answered the phone this way. But it was Edison’s greeting that became the norm and not just on the telephone either. When meeting people face to face these days you’re now much more likely to say ‘hello, nice to meet you’, than ‘how do you do?’. (By the way, if someone does greet you with a ‘how do you do’ the answer is ‘how do you do’. Not, ‘alright, ta’.)
Today, we also use ‘hello’ when we’re questioning the common sense of the person we’re talking to. ‘You’re actually going to do that? Err, hello!’
So there you go. We have Thomas Edison to blame for millions of Adele record sales, and people yelling into their mobiles ‘Hello? Hello? I’M ON THE TRAIN’. Although I quite like the idea of using ‘Ahoy’ next time I answer the phone.