Why Do We Say Hello When Answering the Phone?
Once the telephone was perfected, people had to learn to use it. There was a very fundamental question to be answered, one that seems quite odd to us today, and that is: What do you say when you answer a ringing telephone?
It was kind of a riddle in a way, because when you hook up a telephone and you are speaking basically to a stranger, it ran counter to what people expected in their day-to-day meetings, which was their previous experience. And you have to be properly introduced.
And you’re never introduced on the telephone that way. So you have to find a word or a phrase that very quickly cuts to the chase and allows people to start speaking, and ‘hello’ was pressed into service.
Thomas Edison started it, as a suggestion for a greeting to say over the first telephones. His logic was that it could be clearly understood. Alexander Graham Bell preferred “ahoy”, like greeting a ship at sea, but the nautical reference didn’t stick.
The English had been using “hullo” as a standard greeting, whose entomology derives from Old High German expressions “hallo” and “hollo” and such. We could have just as easily ended up with “namaste” (pronounced “NAH-mess-tay”), since much of English is derived from Sanskrit.