Learn the history of ‘hello’ in 6 minutes!


Catherine: Hello. I’m Catherine. Rob: Hello. I’m Rob. Catherine: We both started with what is probably the best-known greeting in English and one of the first words English language students learn, and that is ‘hello’! So today in 6 Minute English we’re digging a little deeper into the world of greetings and the fascinating history of ‘hello’. Rob: Surprisingly, the word ‘hello’ is not as old as you might think. But when did it first appear in print in English? Was it: a) in the 1890s, b) the 1950s or c) the 1820s Catherine: Well, I think English changes really quickly, so I’m going to say b) the 1950s. And we’ll say ‘hello again’ to ‘hello’ a little later in the programme. Rob: First, greetings. They can be a bit of a minefield. A subject full of unpredictable difficulties. Catherine: While in many places a handshake or bow is normal – there’s also the tricky question of kisses and hugs. Rob: Awkward. Should you kiss? How many times? And should your lips touch their cheek? Catherine: No, Rob – definitely an air-kiss! Close to the cheek, but don’t touch. Much safer. Rob: Greetings are the subject of a new book, by former British diplomat Andy Scott, called One Kiss or Two: In Search of the Perfect Greeting. Here he is on a BBC radio show Word of Mouth. Why are greetings so important? Andy Scott: These are the first moments of interaction we have with people. And it’s in those first moments, and using those verbal and physical rituals that we have and we can get in such a muddle about, that we’re kind of recognising each other and reaffirming our bonds or even testing our bonds and our relationships with each other, we’re signalling our intentions towards each other, despite the fact we might not necessarily be conscious when we’re doing them. Catherine: Scott says we need to communicate our intentions to each other and acknowledge our relationships. Rob: Well, that’s what greetings do. One word he uses to mean ‘relationship’ or ‘connection’ is bond. We can reaffirm our bonds, which means we confirm them and make them stronger. Catherine: And we do it through rituals – patterns of behaviour that we do for a particular purpose. So there are the phrases such as ‘hello’, ‘good afternoon’, ‘nice to meet you’, and as well as the physical rituals – handshakes, bows and kisses. Rob: Though he also said we sometimes want to test our bonds. We might want to check if our friendship has grown by offering something warmer than usual – like a hug instead of a handshake. Now, Scott acknowledges how difficult greetings can be – using the very British slang phrase – to get in a muddle. If you get in a muddle, you become confused or lost. You might get in a muddle if one person expects two kisses and the other expects only one. Catherine: Though Scott does believe that the details don’t really matter, because another important purpose of greetings is to reduce tension. So if you get it wrong, just laugh about it. Rob: OK, let’s get back to the one word we really shouldn’t get in a muddle about, ‘hello’. Catherine: Let’s listen to Dr Laura Wright, a linguist from Cambridge University, also speaking on the BBC Word of Mouth radio programme. Where does ‘hello’ come from? Dr Laura Wright: It starts as a distant hailing: “I see you miles over there and I’ve got to yell at you.” It’s not until the invention of telephones we really get to use hello as a greeting to each other, and even then it wasn’t initially used as a greeting, it was used more as an attention-grabbing device: “You are miles away, the line is about to be cut, I need to attract the attention of the operator as well.” And so everybody would call ‘hello’ to each other as this long-distance greeting form. Catherine: Laura says ‘hello’ hasn’t always meant ‘hello’ – originally it was just a shout to attract someone’s attention. And we call this kind of shouting hailing. Rob: The shout would vary in form – it could sound like a ‘hollo’! Or a ‘hulloa’! Catherine: We continued this kind of hailing when telephones first appeared. People would keep repeating ‘hello, hello’ while they were waiting to be connected. And before long, this became the actual way to greet somebody on the telephone. Anyway, before we say ‘goodbye’ to ‘hello’ – let’s have the answer to today’s question. Rob: I asked when the word first appeared in print in English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was in 1826. Other spellings appeared before that. Catherine: Ah, you see – I was thinking English changes really quickly, but not that quickly. Rob: Not that quickly. Catherine: So before we go, let’s have a look at today’s vocabulary again. A minefield is something that is full of uncertainty and even danger. This sense comes from the literal meaning – a field full of explosive landmines! Rob: And then we had air-kiss – which is when you kiss the air beside someone’s face, instead of the face itself! Like this: mwah. Catherine: And we had bond – a connection. There’s a close bond between us I think, Rob. Rob: Which is good, because when I get in a muddle, you’re always very understanding! Catherine: Yeah. Rob: To get in a muddle means to become confused. Catherine: Ritual was another word – rituals are certain behaviours that people perform in certain contexts. I have a morning ritual: brush my teeth, eat breakfast… I didn’t say it was an interesting ritual, Rob! Rob: No, that’s true. Finally, to hail – it’s to greet someone loudly, especially from a distance. I hailed my friend when I saw her at the airport. Catherine: And that’s it for this programme. For more, find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and of course our website bbclearningenglish.com Bye! Rob: Bye!

Comments 25

  • Wonderful : )

  • very useful as well as inform…..

  • Looking on a photo for 6 minutes is boring

  • Have you got radio chanal BBC learning English?

  • Holo . holoa kiss to this chanel

  • Thanks bbc

  • It's all about rituals, either verbal or physical, by saying Hello or shaking hands, kissing and hugging…

    Hello was once a shout to get others attention on the first invention of the telephone …
    Helloooooo
    First said in 1826 …

  • I cant access to the transcript link above. Does anyone read it? Can you public transcript on the comment section??? Many thanks

  • Great!!!

  • Excellent episode , cool and informative

  • Hello!

  • A good tip. Thank you for that. What about the word hi's etymology?

  • Like it

  • I've realized that Catherine is speaking slower in this video. Thanks you Catherine, good for you!

  • I need to attract your attention so i say hello

  • Very useful lesson

  • It is good for learning English thank bbc english

  • I get in a muddle when I'm talking about my future wife!

  • Very usefful video! Thanks a lot!

  • Hello also evolved from the word Hollar. Hollar or Holler is an old southeastern US term meaning “down the road.” People before the use of the telephone would give their neighbor a Hollar. To get a neighbor’s attention someone would shout Hallowooooo! When no longer being shouted the word changed to hello. Edison suggested that people use the nautical term ahoy when answering the phone.

  • It's usually the first word you say to people, but the word 'hello' has an unusual history. And just why are greetings so important? Join Rob and Catherine in 6 Minute English as they explore the world of greetings, and say 'hello' to some useful vocabulary!

    This week's question:
    When did 'hello' first appear in print?

    a) 1890s

    b) 1950s

    c) 1820s

    Listen to the programme to find out the answer.

    Vocabulary
    minefield
    subject full of hidden problems

    air-kiss
    a kiss which does not touch the face, but goes very close

    bond
    connection

    ritual
    pattern of behaviour in a certain context

    to get in a muddle
    to become confused

    to hail
    to greet someone loudly from a distance

    Transcript
    Note: This is not a word for word transcript

    Catherine
    Hello. I'm Catherine.

    Rob
    Hello. I'm Rob.

    Catherine
    We both started with what is probably the best-known greeting in English and one of the first words English language students learn, and that is 'hello'! So today in 6 Minute English we're digging a little deeper into the world of greetings and the fascinating history of 'hello'.

    Rob
    Surprisingly, the word 'hello' is not as old as you might think. But when did it first appear in print in English?

    Was it:

    a) in the 1890s
    b) the 1950s or
    c) the1820s

    Catherine
    Well, I think English changes really quickly, so I'm going to say b) the 1950s. And we'll say 'hello again' to 'hello' a little later in the programme.

    Rob
    First, greetings. They can be a bit of a minefield. A subject full of unpredictable difficulties.

    Catherine
    While in many places a handshake or bow is normal – there's also the tricky question of kisses and hugs.

    Rob
    Awkward. Should you kiss? How many times? And should your lips touch their cheek?

    Catherine
    No, Rob – definitely an air-kiss! Close to the cheek, but don't touch. Much safer.

    Rob
    Greetings are the subject of a new book, by former British diplomat Andy Scott, called One Kiss or Two: In Search of the Perfect Greeting. Here he is on a BBC radio show Word of Mouth. Why are greetings so important?

    Andy Scott, author
    These are the first moments of interaction we have with people. And it's in those first moments, and using those verbal and physical rituals that we have and we can get in such a muddle about, that we're kind of recognising each other and reaffirming our bonds or even testing our bonds and our relationships with each other, we're signalling our intentions towards each other, despite the fact we might not necessarily be conscious when we're doing them.

    Catherine
    Scott says we need to communicate our intentions to each other and acknowledge our relationships.

    Rob
    Well, that's what greetings do. One word he uses to mean 'relationship' or 'connection' is bond. We can reaffirm our bonds, which means we confirm them and make them stronger.

    Catherine
    And we do it through rituals -patterns of behaviour that we do for a particular purpose. So there are the phrases such as 'hello', 'good afternoon', 'nice to meet you', and as well as the physical rituals – handshakes, bows and kisses.

    Rob
    Though he also said we sometimes want to test our bonds. We might want to check if our friendship has grown by offering something warmer than usual – like a hug instead of a handshake.

    Now, Scott acknowledges how difficult greetings can be – using the very British slang phrase – to get in a muddle. If you get in a muddle, you become confused or lost. You might get in a muddle if one person expects two kisses and the other expects only one.

    Catherine
    Though Scott does believe that the details don't really matter, because another important purpose of greetings is to reduce tension. So if you get it wrong, just laugh about it.

    Rob
    OK, let's get back to the one word we really shouldn't get in a muddle about, 'hello'.

    Catherine
    Let's listen to Dr Laura Wright, a linguist from Cambridge University, also speaking on the BBC Word of Mouth radio programme. Where does 'hello' come from?

    Dr Laura Wright, Linguist and BBC presenter
    It starts as a distant hailing: "I see you miles over there and I've got to yell at you." It's not until the invention of telephones we really get to use hello as a greeting to each other, and even then it wasn't initially used as a greeting, it was used more as an attention-grabbing device: "You are miles away, the line is about to be cut, I need to attract the attention of the operator as well." And so everybody would call 'hello' to each other as this long-distance greeting form.

    Catherine
    Laura says 'hello' hasn't always meant 'hello' – originally it was just a shout to attract someone's attention. And we call this kind of shouting hailing.

    Rob
    The shout would vary in form – it could sound like a 'hollo'! Or a 'hulloa'!

    Catherine
    We continued this kind of hailing when telephones first appeared. People would keep repeating 'hello, hello' while they were waiting to be connected. And before long, this became the actual way to greet somebody on the telephone. Anyway, before we say 'goodbye' to 'hello' – let's have the answer to today's question.

    Rob
    I asked when the word first appeared in print in English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was in 1826. Other spellings appeared before that.

    Catherine
    Ah, you see – I was thinking English changes really quickly, but not that quickly.

    Rob
    Not that quickly.

    Catherine
    So before we go, let's have a look at today's vocabulary again. A minefield is something that is full of uncertainty and even danger. This sense comes from the literal meaning – a field full of explosive landmines!

    Rob
    And then we had air-kiss – which is when you kiss the air beside someone's face, instead of the face itself! Like this: mwah.

    Catherine
    And we had bond – a connection. There's a close bond between us I think, Rob.

    Rob
    Which is good, because when I get in a muddle, you're always very understanding!

    Catherine
    Yeah.

    Rob
    To get in a muddle means to become confused.

    Catherine
    Ritual was another word – rituals are certain behaviours that people perform in certain contexts. I have a morning ritual, for example: brush my teeth, eat breakfast… I didn't say it was an interesting ritual, Rob!

    Rob
    No, that's true. Finally, to hail – it's to greet someone loudly, especially from a distance. I hailed my friend when I saw her at the airport.

    Catherine
    And that's it for this programme. For more, find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and of course our website! Bye!

    Rob
    Bye!

  • it's very good for students in Viet Namese to listening to English

  • tks to bbc learning English , i got understood some new words

  • Hello BBC team. Hugs and kisses and kisses and kisses

  • i always get in muddle when i say hello to a girl

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