It’s often stated that hello was created specifically for the telephone; that we didn’t have this word prior to Bell’s invention. This is not quite true.
It is true that the spelling and pronunciation of hello is only as old as the telephone. From John Hay’s The Breadwinners of 1883:
Hello, Andy! you asleep.
Kipling’s Letters of Travel records a telephonic use from 1892:
A...millionaire...clawing wildly at the telephone..."Hello!...Yes. Who’s there?”
But, this does not account for earlier variants. For over a century prior to this, halloo served the function of a simple word of greeting and hello is simply a variation on this older form. From the Proceedings of the Old Bailey from 27 February 1765:
I had my lanthorn under my coat; I opened my coat and drew it out: I said, halloo, my friend, what have you got here?
And halloo can be found in common conversational use in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey from 16 May 1833:
When he came in he said, “Halloo Harry,” in a friendly way, holding out his hand—I said, “Halloo George, who should have thought of seeing you here.”
There are many other early variants of halloo, used as hunting crys, calls of alarm, and the like, although none served the greeting function that hello does today. The earliest of these variants is hollo, which dates to at least 1588 when Shakespeare used it in Titus Andronicus (II.i):
Hollo, what storme is this?
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton