Friday, October 20, 2006

How did "hello" become our standard greeting?

Who's asking: JJ MacMillan, Austin, TX

"Hello" is a great word, if you think about it. It can hold an entire spectrum of human emotions; take a minute and, in your mind, hear it said by Mae West, Greta Garbo, Jerry Seinfeld, Ben Stein, Mike Myers. Now go and listen to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" a few times. (I recommend the Tori Amos cover, in addition to the Nirvana original.)

But the origins of "hello" are a mystery, and all answers are speculative at best. The American Heritage Dictionary says it comes from hallo, which in turn comes from the old English holla, which means "stop" -- or from the old French hola, "hey there." Other theories believe it's some corruption of words for "hail," "health," or "how are you."

Shakespeare uses "halloo," as a hunting call; Dickens used "hullo" as a greeting. Instances of "hello" in print date back to 1826, and Mark Twain used the word in his travel journals.

Thomas Edison gets the credit for instituting "hello" as our telephone greeting; apparently, Alexander Graham Bell thought we should say "Ahoy." (In Russian they say, "Slushayu," which means, "I'm listening.") "Hello" on the telephone caught on so fast that telephone operators were known as "hello girls" even before the turn of the last century.

I've done a lot of reading this week, but the vast majority of it has been clients' manuscripts. I only finished one published book this week, but it was good.

What I Read This Week

Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish. Linda Brown and I spent a good chunk of Bouchercon hanging out with Craig and his fabulous wife, Judy; the man has good taste in rental cars, cowboy hats, and women. I felt ashamed that I hadn't read his first novel, especially since it was one of The Mystery Bookstore's bestsellers of last year, and got raves from everyone else on staff.

It's such a relief when authors I like in person turn out to be good writers. The Cold Dish introduces the aging sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, Walt Longmire, a widower who's letting himself disengage from his life and his work. The efforts of his friends and colleagues don't do as much to wake him up as the murder of a young man. The victim had been convicted of a horrifying sexual assault a couple of years earlier, and Walt's own best friend is one of many with a motive for revenge. The Cold Dish is not only a good crime novel, it's also a classic Western, set in modern times, and a darn fine book in any genre. I've already ordered the sequel, Death Without Company.


Anna said...

When I was traveling in Australia I met a couple from Norway and we began to do the usual bored traveler exercise of teaching each other words in our native language. When I asked them how they greeted people on the street, they said "We just say hi or hello." I'm sure there are lots of other countries that use it too. I love when things American are ubiquitous. So, where did "hi" come from?

JJ said...

Thank you for answering this. I don't know how I missed it. Oh, yeah. I was buried in a work-slide and just now was dug out by rescue dogs.