Does anybody know the etymology of the main greeting in English: hallo?

Besides that I wish to know the difference between the terms hallo and hello.

I have to know!

  • Is "hallo" a common greeting in English? Also, this sounds like an ELU question to me. Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 12:43
  • @KenB I agree, I think etymology questions like this would be a better fit on EL&U, and "hallo" is relatively uncommon, especially by comparison with "hello" and other greetings. Regardless, here is a place to start: etymonline.com result for hello and hallo Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 12:47
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about etymology and orthography of a word, and therefore a better fit for EL&U (which is currently not an option for suggested migration?). Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 12:55

2 Answers 2


The quickest source for English etymologies is etymonline.com, which will give you this:

1883, alteration of hallo, itself an alteration of holla, hollo, a shout to attract attention, which seems to go back to at least c.1400. Perhaps from holla! “stop, cease.” OED cites Old High German hala, hola, emphatic imperative of halon, holon “to fetch,” “used especially in hailing a ferryman.” Fowler lists halloo, hallo, halloa, halloo, hello, hillo, hilloa, holla, holler, hollo, holloa, hollow, hullo, and writes, “The multiplicity of forms is bewildering ....” Popularity as a greeting coincides with use of the telephone, where it won out over Alexander Graham Bell's suggestion, ahoy. Central telephone exchange operators were known as hello-girls (1889).

Etymonline's main source, and the “authoritative” English source, is the Oxford English Dictionary. This is in constant process of revision; the current state is available online by subscription, the first edition is available free from archive.org (I give the volume-by-volume links below). Here you will find all the variants above as distinct headwords, as well as a number of variants ending in {-oo}. It offers (s.v. Holla) as another possible source or influence French holà,“stop!, wait!” recorded since the 15th century. Wiktionary s.v. hallo gives parallels in other European languages and suggests that it represents “Old English hēlā, ǣlā, ēalā (“O!, alas!, oh!, lo!”), equivalent to hey +‎ lo.” There's no evidence for the OE connection, but I think it very likely that hey, ha, ho lies at the bottom of all these.

The upshot appears to be that something like /'hVlo/, with a lengthened endstressed version /hə'loː/ or /hə'luː/, has been around since late Middle English (and may go farther back) as a cry to catch someone's attention. Its ultimate origin is obscure.

I think the orthographic variants should probably be regarded as just that: spelling preferences for a word with various trivially different pronunciations. Here is a Google Ngram which graphs the occurrence of the most frequent 19th and 20th century variants against the occurrence of hello; as you see, hello has been for three or four generations the most popular. The crossover came in US English about 1895 and in British English about 1920: enter image description here

OED 1 at archive.org:



Being a Brit, I've always pronounced hello as hallo, and spelt hello as hallo and never known "hello" could be a correct spelling! When I left the UK in 1994 I became convined non-native and US speakers were mispronouncing and mispelling hello!

  • You can edit your post by clicking on edit. One thing you should note is this community is not a discussion forum and it encourages definitive answers with proper research and reference.
    – user140086
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 7:26
  • @si_l, I just don't get that. I grew up in Yorkshire, live in the north-west and spend a lot of time in London, but I recognise 'hello' as being the main form, with 'hallo' as a bit of an oddity. BTW in the comic-books I read as a boy, it was often 'hullo', but I think that was an attempt to represent 'hello/hallo' stressed on the O, with a schwa in the first syllable. Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 11:31

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