Ahoy Ahoy

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“Hello just began to be used all over the place, and by the 1880s, it was fairly popular.”

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SHOW: All Things Considered

DATE: March 19, 1999


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
and that is: What do you say when you answer a ringing telephone?


Allen Koenigsberg is a professor of classics at Brooklyn College and an expert
in the life of Alexander Graham Bell’s rival, Thomas Edison. He says the two
great men had different notions about how to let a caller know that you’d
picked up the phone.

Professor ALLEN KOENIGSBERG: When Bell invented the phone, Alexander Graham
Bell, he didn’t use `hello’ at all. He used `ahoy.’ He used it twice, `Ahoy.
Ahoy.’ And apparently he was the only one that used it, because I’ve never
heard anybody to this day say, `Ahoy.’ And Bell was not even in the Navy, so I
don’t know why he insisted on using a call that way. But if you study the
origin of the word `hello,’ which may come from `halloo,’ is the call of a
ferry boat operator, and you call them over when you want a ferry boat to come
to your doorstep. And you say, `Halloo.’ So the word may have come from that.

Hello just began to be used all over the place, and by the 1880s, it was fairly popular.

It seems like one of those words that is around in the soundscape forever, but
most dictionaries said that it originated in the 1880s, but the telephone was
invented in the 1870s. So I wondered what was being said on the phone when
they were first hooked up

Start it at ?:?? – Leave it to about 1:08

everybody’s saying it now.


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