“Hello” wins out over “Ahoy” thanks to the telephone

If you ever watch a movie that takes place prior to 1827 and a character says, “Hello”, you’ve just uncovered a continuity error. They’re fun to spot—there’s the gas-powered chariot in Gladiator, Dorothy’s pigtails that grow and recede 4 inches throughout a single scene in The Wizard of Oz, and the cobra’s reflection off the glass that safely separates it from Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, if you ever hear Hello in a movie about Vikings or the Roman Empire, you can impress your friends with this information: the word Hello, even though The Oxford English Dictionary recognized it in 1827, became a friendly greeting only after the invention of the telephone in 1876.

Hello wasn’t used in its current form until Thomas Edison decided it was the best thing to say upon picking up the telephone. However, his use of Hello was probably not a greeting, but to get someone’s attention, such as “Hello, please hand me that piano” or “Hello, you’re stepping on my foot.” That’s how Hello was used up until the telephone was invented. It was a way of saying Yes, you have my attention, but, thanks to the telephone, it eventually morphed into a friendly greeting.

Edison’s rival, Alexander Graham Bell, didn’t like using Hello when answering the phone. He preferred Ahoy, which was indeed a greeting, albeit a nautical one. Thankfully, it didn’t stick, unless you are the creator of The Simpsons, whose character Monte Burns, the owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, answers his phone with Ahoy hoy.

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