It is a common misconception that we say hello when we pick calls because Hello was the surname of Alexander Graham Bell’s girlfriend, Margaret Hello.
There are different versions of the story.
One version says Bell requested that we used hello when using his invention because he wanted to honor his girlfriend.
Another states that Bell connected the first telephone between his home and Hello’s home, and called out her name during the first phone call.
Both are false.
Bell’s first statement over the telephone was to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, who was in an adjoining room. Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
Besides, Bell never had a girlfriend called Margaret Hello — that’s if he ever had a girlfriend at all.
That popular picture of Bell and the so-called Hello is actually of Mabel Gardiner Hubbard (aka Mabel Bell), Bell’s legal wife.
Why do we say Hello?
We say hello because Thomas Edison (who invented the light bulb) wanted us to.
Bell’s telephone was intended to link only two places together. Like two homes, offices or a home and an office.
Because of this, the first telephones could not ring. People used words like “Are you there?” and “Are you ready to talk?” whenever they wanted to talk to the person at the other end.
Bell and Edison soon realized that people needed a shorter word to alert them that somebody wanted to speak to them over the telephone.
Bell opted for Ahoy! Edison preferred Hello.
The Origin of Ahoy
Ahoy is a greeting among sailors and ferrymen. It is from the Middle English “hoy,” which is from “hoi,” a Dutch word meaning “hello.”
Sailors initially sued “ho, the ship ahoy!” before shortening it to “ahoy” or sometimes, “Ahoy-hoy!”
The Origin of Hello
The origin of hello is not very clear.
It could also be from the Old French “haloer” or the Middle English “halwe,” which means “a saint, holy thing, or shrine.”
The Middle English “halwe” could be related to the ancient “hail” which is used as a salutation. The ancient hail is from the Old Norse “heill,” which means “health.”
However, it is likelier that hello is from the Middle English “hallow,” which means “to pursue” or “urge on.”
The word was initially used to order hunting dogs to chase a prey. It was later used to greet a person.
There were different variants of the word. Hallo, holla, hollo, halloa, halloo, hello, hillo, hilla, hilloa, holla, holler, hollo, holloa, hollow and hullo were all used.
They are all derivatives of the Old High German “halâ” and “holâ,” which is from “halôn,” which means “to fetch.” The Old German words were used as greeting among sailors and ferrymen.
Hello’s first confirmed appearance was in the October 18, 1826, edition of the Norwich Courier of Norwich, Connecticut. By 1848, it had become a standard greeting in the United States.
Why Thomas Edison Preferred Hello
Thomas Edison discovered how recorded sounds worked when he invented the phonograph in 1877.
The phonograph was the first device to allow people record and playback sound.
On July 18, 1877, he screamed “halloo!” into the mouthpiece of his phonograph.
He loved the word and continued to use it in his experiments although he often changed its spelling and pronunciation. However, he settled for hello after Bell invented the telephone.
How Hello Won over Ahoy
Bell should have won the Hello-Ahoy war because he invented the telephone.
However, he lost out when the telephone exchange came along.
A telephone exchange allowed people to speak with almost anybody else. It was a central station where people called and asked workers to connect them to whoever they wanted to speak with. The workers connected the caller to the receiver, completing the phone call.
Edison supplied equipment to the several telephone exchanges including District Telephone Company, the first telephone exchange, which opened in New Haven, Connecticut, on January 28, 1878.
The manual issued to customers suggested they used either “Hello” or “What is wanted?” Two years later, everybody was using hello.
Bell never used hello and continued to use ahoy until his death.