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The greeting "Hello" became associated with telephones in the late 19th century. Postcard circa 1905–1915

Hello is a salutation or greeting in the English language. It is first attested in writing from 1826.[1]

Early uses

Hello, with that spelling, was used in publications in the U.S. as early as the 18 October 1826 edition of the Norwich Courier of Norwich, Connecticut.[1] Another early use was an 1833 American book called The Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, of West Tennessee,[2] which was reprinted that same year in The London Literary Gazette.[3] The word was extensively used in literature by the 1860s.[4]


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hello is an alteration of hallo, hollo,[1] which came from Old High German "halâ, holâ, emphatic imperative of halôn, holôn to fetch, used especially in hailing a ferryman".[5] It also connects the development of hello to the influence of an earlier form, holla, whose origin is in the French holà (roughly, 'whoa there!', from French 'there').[6] As in addition to hello, halloo,[7] hallo, hollo, hullo and (rarely) hillo also exist as variants or related words, the word can be spelt using any of all five vowels.[8][9][10]

Bill Bryson asserts in his book Mother Tongue that "hello" is a contraction of the Old English phrase hál béo þu ("Hale be thou", or "whole be thou", meaning a wish for good health; cf. "goodbye" which is a contraction of "God be with ye").[11]


Before the telephone, greetings often included a name and a time of day, such as "Good morning, Doctor", but on the telephone, it isn't immediately known who is speaking or whether they share the same time zone. So greetings without time began to catch on.[12]

The use of hello as a telephone greeting has been credited to Thomas Edison; according to one source, he expressed his surprise with a misheard Hullo.[13] Alexander Graham Bell initially used Ahoy (as used on ships) as a telephone greeting.[14][15] However, in 1877, Edison wrote to T. B. A. David, president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company of Pittsburgh:

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.[13]

By 1889, central telephone exchange operators were known as "hello-girls" because of the association between the greeting and the telephone.[15][16]

A 1918 fiction novel uses the spelling "Halloa" in the context of telephone conversations.[17]

Hullo, hallo, and other spellings

Hello might be derived from an older spelling variant, hullo, which the American Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as a "chiefly British variant of hello",[18] and which was originally used as an exclamation to call attention, an expression of surprise, or a greeting. Hullo is found in publications as early as 1803.[19] The word hullo is still in use, with the meaning hello.[20][21][22][23]

Hello is alternatively thought to come from the word hallo (1840) via hollo (also holla, holloa, halloo, halloa).[24] The definition of hollo is to shout or an exclamation originally shouted in a hunt when the quarry was spotted:[25][26]

If I fly, Marcius,/Halloo me like a hare.

Fowler's has it that "hallo" is first recorded "as a shout to call attention" in 1864.[27] It is used by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner written in 1798:

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play

Came to the mariners' hollo!

In many Germanic languages, including German, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and Afrikaans, "hallo" literally translates into English as "hello". In the case of Dutch, it was used as early as 1797 in a letter from Willem Bilderdijk to his sister-in-law as a remark of astonishment.[28]

Webster's dictionary from 1913 traces the etymology of holloa to the Old English halow and suggests: "Perhaps from ah + lo; compare Anglo Saxon ealā".

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, hallo is a modification of the obsolete holla (stop!), perhaps from Old French hola (ho, ho! + la, there, from Latin illac, that way).[29]

"Hello, World" computer program

Students learning a new computer programming language will often begin by writing a "Hello, World!" program, which does nothing but issue the message "Hello, World!" to the user (such as by displaying it on a screen). It has been used since the earliest programs, and in many computer languages. This tradition was further popularised after being printed in an introductory chapter of the book The C Programming Language by Kernighan & Ritchie.[30] The book had reused an example taken from a 1974 memo by Brian Kernighan at Bell Laboratories.[31]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "hello". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ (Anonymous). The Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, of West Tennessee. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833. p. 144.
  3. ^ "The Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, of West Tennessee". The London Literary Gazette; and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c. No. 883: 21 December 1833. p. 803.
  4. ^ [1] Origin of the word.
  5. ^ "hallo". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  6. ^ "holla". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. ^ Butler, Mann, A History of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Wilcox, Dickerman & Co., 1834, p. 106.
  8. ^ "Definition of HOLLO". www.merriam-webster.com.
  9. ^ "Definition of HULLO". www.merriam-webster.com.
  10. ^ "Definition of HILLO". www.merriam-webster.com.
  11. ^ Bryson, Bill (2000). "Where Words Come From". Mother Tongue. Book Club Associates. p. 76. OCLC 1120388087. OL 16017998M.
  12. ^ McCulloch, Gretchen (23 July 2019). Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. Riverhead. pp. 201–202. ISBN 978-0735210936.
  13. ^ a b Allen Koenigsberg. "The First "Hello!": Thomas Edison, the Phonograph and the Telephone – Part 2". Antique Phonograph Magazine. Vol. VIII, no. 6. Archived from the original on 16 November 2006.
  14. ^ Allen Koenigsberg (1999). "All Things Considered". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 13 September 2006.
  15. ^ a b "Online Etymology Dictionary". etymonline.com. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  16. ^ Grimes, William (5 March 1992). "Great 'Hello' Mystery Is Solved". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  17. ^ Dehan, Richard (1918). That which Hath Wings: A Novel of the Day. G. P. Putnam. ISBN 978-1-5332-9337-4.
  18. ^ "hullo – Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 25 April 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  19. ^ The Sporting Magazine. London (1803). Volume 23, p. 12.
  20. ^ "Hullo From Orkney". Forum.downsizer.net. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  21. ^ Piers Beckley (23 April 2008). "Writersroom Blog: Hullo again. Did you miss me?". BBC. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  22. ^ "Ashes: England v Australia – day one as it happened | Andy Bull and Rob Smyth". The Guardian. London. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  23. ^ "Semi-final clash excites fans". BBC Sport. 14 April 2005. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  24. ^ "Hello". Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  25. ^ "Hollo". Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  26. ^ Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes. Vinton. 1907. p. 127.
  27. ^ The New Fowler's, revised third edition by R. W. Burchfield, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860263-4, p. 356.
  28. ^ Bilderdijk, Willem Liefde en ballingschap. Brieven 1795–1797 (ed. Marita Mathijsen). Uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam/Antwerp 1997
  29. ^ "Hello". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved 1 September 2006.
  30. ^ Kernighan, Brian W.; Ritchie, Dennis M. (1978). The C Programming Language (1st ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-110163-3.
  31. ^ Kernighan, Brian (1974). "Programming in C: A Tutorial" (PDF). Bell Labs. Retrieved 9 January 2019.

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