I have noticed that "Hello" and "Health" look(and sound) quite similar in English. The situation gets more interesting when you look into some other languages as well. For instance:

In Russian:здороваться and здоровье mean to say hello and health respectively.

Also in Persian: سلام(read as salaam) and سلامت(read as salaamat) look pretty much the same.

Although this has probably been obvious to our ancestors, I have no idea why they should look similar. Why is this the case?

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  • It might have something to do with, "to your health" as a greeting, which then muted to "hello" over the years. But that's my guess, I could be wrong. – Mari-Lou A Jul 24 '13 at 11:05
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    What about 'hell' and 'hello'? – Mitch Jul 24 '13 at 11:46
  • @Mitch Good question! However, do you know about any other language where they sound similar? – Ali Jul 24 '13 at 11:49
  • Point taken. My point is that in language there are patterns and there are coincidences. This is a coincidence hiding in a pattern. – Mitch Jul 24 '13 at 11:54
  • As an English person, I have never thought of them as either sounding or looking similar - and still don't! Maybe speakers of certain languages are used to different sounds that make these sound similar to them? – TrevorD Jul 24 '13 at 13:07

For the same reason that words meaning ‘cheers’ (said when toasting) often mean ‘health’: when greeting someone, it is a very common courtesy to wish them good health. There are many more examples from the world’s languages of words for ‘hello’ (and ‘goodbye’) having meanings that are related to health or religious blessings. The word ‘salutation’ (and ‘salute’) itself comes from the Latin noun salus, meaning both ‘health’ and ‘greeting’.

Interestingly, though, the word that sparked this question, English ‘hello’, is not at all related to ‘health’. Etymonline writes:

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 ...."

In other words, even though ‘hello’ and ‘health’ are related in many languages, there is no need for them to be, and in English they are not. The fact that the first syllable in both words is pronounced the same is pure coincidence (if you say ‘hullo’ instead of ‘hello’, this is even more obvious, since they then only have the /h/ and the /l/ in common).

However, the greeting-related verb/exclamation ‘hail’ (as in “Hail, Caesar!”) is related to the adjective ‘hale’ and the noun ‘health’; as well as to ‘whole’, the original meaning of ‘hale’ going from ‘whole’ to ‘undamaged/unscathed’ to ‘healthy’; and the now quite archaic noun ‘wassail’ that originally meant ‘be healthy’, then became something of a drinking formula, kind of like ‘cheers’, and finally ended up being a word for lively drinking festivities, or even the drink partaken in—quite the evolution!

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  • -1 Interesting, but it doesn't actually address the question of why or whether they do look and/or sound the same. – TrevorD Jul 24 '13 at 13:08
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    @TrevorD, they are both short words that have identical first syllables, so there can’t really be any doubt that they sound familiar. As for the why, the fact that they are completely unrelated should be enough to conclude that the similarity in sound is coincidental. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '13 at 13:12
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    Are we sure that "hallo" didn't come from "hail"? – Peter Shor Aug 8 '13 at 11:12
  • We can be quite sure that ‘hallo’ didn’t come from ‘hail’, since the latter invariably (in all its derivations) has a long vowel, whereas the former invariably (in all its forms) has a short vowel. We can’t be absolutely sure, of course, that the ultimately obscure etymology of ‘hello’ doesn’t at some point in prehistory involve a non-lengthened grade of the same root as ‘hail’, but there is also no evidence to suggest it does. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 10 '13 at 1:47
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    Wes þu hal, Janus. – tchrist Mar 28 '14 at 0:27

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