I owe this post to the folks at Futility Closet, one of my favorite websites. Apparently, the word “Hello” has a recent history. Although it was Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone, it was Thomas Edison who dictated what we said when we answered the call. In August 1877, he wrote a letter to the president of a telegraph company that was planning to introduce the telephone to Pittsburgh: “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? EDISON.”
Edison’s thinking was that a bell was not necessary: The word “Hello” was sufficient to get the other party’s attention. It seems that we got the ringer anyway—as well as the word Hello.
It’s far better than what Alexander Graham Bell was planning to use as a greeting: “Hoy! Hoy!” By the time the caller stopped laughing, the call recipient would have hung up in frustration.
Nowadays, most of the calls I receive begin not with a greeting, but a click as some sort of machinery cranks up the robocall script. Perhaps I should just say, “Hoy! Hoy!” and hang up at once.