What is the first thing you say after you receive a call? “Hello!” of course. We all know that. It’s more of a habit or we may say a reflex action while we receive the phone. Even a baby, who has just started to speak, knows what to say first on the phone. However, not many know the reason behind saying this particular word. Here are a few explanations as to why “hello” became a universal greeting while answering the phone.
Tough it is more of a fable, but it is said that the word “hello” originated from the name of a girl. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of telephone, had a girlfriend named Margaret Hello and it was her name that he took when he answered the telephone for the first time. It is said that people may forget the name of the great inventor Graham Bell but his girlfriend will always be remembered because of the word “hello”, that was actually her name.
Conversely, it is argued that Graham Bell never really had a girlfriend named Margaret Hello. In fact he had a wife, Mable Hubbard Bell, who could not hear. Graham Bell was actually in favour of using the word “Ahoy” while answering the phone. In reality, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but it was Thomas Alva Edison who came up with the greeting we use while answering the telephone.
It is said that a Hungarian inventor, Tivadar Puskas built the first original telephone exchange along with Edison. While testing the telephone connections, Edison kept asking Puskas if he could hear Edison. In response Puskas kept replying with the word “hallom”, i.e., “I hear you” which sounds pretty much the same as the word “hello”. As a result Edison mistakenly heard “hello” instead of “hallom” and thus came up with the idea of using the same word for greeting over the phone.
The other theory as per Wikipedia is that may be the word “Hello” has been derived from “hullo”, which the American Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as a “chiefly British variant of hello”. As per the dictionary the word was originally used as an exclamation to call attention, an expression of surprise, or a greeting. Moreover, it is also assumed that the word “Hello” could have come from the word hallo (1840) via “hollo”, which means to shout or an exclamation. Hence, this could mean that the word was used not only to greet but rather to call in the attention of the person on the other end of the line.
Some would ask why did the word “hello” popularized more than “Ahoy” as used by the actual inventor of the telephone. Well as per an article I read, Aamon Shea, who is the author of the first ever telephone book published, by the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878 (with 50 subscribers listed) included a ‘How To’ section on its foremost pages which told users to begin their conversations with “a firm and cheery ‘hulloa’.”
As per an article in New York Times, published in 1992, named “Great ‘Hello’ Mystery Is Solved”, Allen Koenigsberg, a classics professor at Brooklyn College, determined to sort out the “hello” mystery. Mr. Koenigsberg embarked on an intricate investigation that led him, ultimately and victoriously, to the American Telephone and Telegraph Company Archives in Manhattan, where he found an unpublished letter by Edison, dated Aug. 15, 1877. The letter was addressed to one T.B.A. David (former president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh) who was preparing to introduce the telephone to that city. During that time, Edison envisioned the telephone as a business machine only, with a permanently open line to parties at both the ends. However, this setup had a trouble. The question was that how would one make out that the other party wanted to talk? Edison tackled the issue and explained it in his letter, which said, “Friend David, I don’t think we shall need a call bell as ‘Hello!’ can be heard 10 to 20 feet away. What do you think?”
Thus the idea was to acknowledge the connection because one wouldn’t know otherwise if the telephone is answered by a person who could hear you or has it just gone silent.