story of hello

Have you ever questioned why “hello” is the default greeting upon picking up the phone? The reason we greet callers when we answer the phone has an incredible explanation.

The Word of Surprise

Contrary to popular belief, “hello” has only been a frequent greeting for a relatively brief time. The term “hello” was first used in 1826 to indicate surprise or interest. The phrase didn’t become a typical welcome among English speakers until the 1860s. In the UK, “hullo” was used instead of “hello,” which was how it was written in the United States. As an alternative spelling for “hello,” the word “hullo” was first used in British literature in 1803, and it is still in use today.

This word is thought to have originated in French and German as a way to grab people’s attention. Before the word “hello” became popular in Europe, words like “hallo,” “holler,” “hollow,” “hola,” and “halloo” were used to draw attention. In the 1790s, “hallo” was a greeting used in the Netherlands to indicate surprise and interest.

Thomas Edison’s ‘Hello’

Surprisingly, the phrase “hello” as a standard phone greeting was created by Thomas Edison, the man who created the incandescent light bulb. The standard telephone greeting before Edison was “What would you like?” was used by telephone operators to greet callers.

Why do we say "Hello" when answering a phone ?
Thomas Edison

The greeting “What do you want ?” was too protracted to become ingrained in culture, nevertheless. In a letter to Mr. David, his friend and the head of Pittsburgh’s Central District and Printing Telegraph Company, Edison initially suggested using the phrase as a greeting in 1877. He stated:

Friend David, We don’t need a call, as “Hello!” can be heard from between 10 and 20 feet away. How do you feel?”

Edison – PS The transmitter and receiver’s initial production cost is only $7.00.

The phrase quickly gained popularity as the go-to call-answering greeting. Due to the widespread use of this term, it was noted that telephone operators started to be referred to as “hello girls” in 1889. Only 12 years had passed since Edison first recommended using the term.

Thomas Edison’s opponent and telephone rival Alexander Graham Bell proposed using the term “ahoy” as a greeting when making phone calls. Compared to “hello,” the word “ahoy” has been around for 100 more years and was a widespread term among sailors and ferrymen. It derives from the Dutch word “hoi,” which means “hello” in English.

Edison’s “hello” was included in the New Haven District Telephone Company’s first telephone directory, which was released in 1878, in spite of Bell’s attempts to make “ahoy” the default telephone greeting. Since that time, “hello” has dominated phone talks and is still often used as a greeting in English-speaking nations and all over the world including India.

manish janardhan iit mbm

About the Author

The author is a technical fellow who loves innovations like writing, photography etc. Manish is also a cyber analyst who has given services in many places. You can follow them on social media.

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2 thoughts on “Why do we say “Hello” when answering a phone ?”
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