Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The history of "hello"

In the English speaking-world “hello” is such an important part of every-day language that it is nigh-on impossible to imagine life without it.

So it may be some surprise that it was apparently only coined in the 19th Century – and its origins are something of mystery.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “hello” is an alteration of hallo / hollo, which came from Old High German, halâ / holâ, the imperative of halôn / holôn, which mean “to fetch”, typically used in hailing a ferryman.

So we owe it all to the ferrymen.

Or not: alternatively “hello” may be derived from the not entirely dissimilar “hullo”, which was originally used to call attention, as an expression of surprise or a greeting.

Or it could come from “hallo” via “hollo” – a shout originally used in a hunt when the quarry is spotted

But while the origins of “hello” may be obscure, there is no doubting that it is a very important word – and not just in English: “hello”, or a variant thereof, is apparently used in no fewer than 39 languages.

“Hello” has had many uses over the years, from attracting people’s attention to the common greeting it is today.

And it has adapted to technology: one of the principle uses of “hello” nowadays is when answering the telephone, reflected in the fact that many languages – from French to Lithuanian - use a variation on the world uniquely for this purpose.

For this, we apparently have Thomas Edison to thank: his old rival Alexander Graham Bell favoured “ahoy” as a telephone greeting (as was used on ships), only for Edison to weigh in with “hello”.

He quickly won the day: by 1889 the greeting had become so popular that telephone exchange operators were known as “hello-girls” (although Bell continued to use “ahoy” all his life as, oddly, does The Simpsons’ Mr Burns).

What, then, does this have to do with Siine? 

We recognise the value of “hello”, the power it holds and the influence it wields. That’s why we want you to own your “hellos” – to say “hello” in your own, personal way. 

It’s what the ferrymen would have wanted, after all.

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