I can't translate that sentence, “hail to the king”. I've found something like “greetings to the king” but is this correct?

  • If the King is "King Taxi Ltd." (or something similar), then the role of subordination could be reversed! ;-D May 25, 2011 at 18:58
  • The Latin equivalent of hail in this sense is ave. If you know the Catholic prayer that begins Ave Maria or the Roman salute Ave Caesar, then you'll understand the sense of this word (and possibly be easily able to find an equivalent in any other language with a Catholic tradition). Jun 12, 2012 at 3:38
  • ... Hail Hydra! May 18, 2014 at 9:44

2 Answers 2


Nowadays, among it's meanings it has this one:

hail verb
1. [trans.] call out to (someone) to attract attention: the crew hailed a fishing boat.
2. signal (an approaching taxicab) to stop: she raised her hand to hail a cab.

The Archaic usage is signalled as follows:

  • exclamation archaic
    expressing greeting or acclaim: "hail, Caesar!"

Considering this, we can say that "Hail to the King!" can be both a way to express acclaim, praise to the King and express greeting.

But we even might be able to say that it can be both together. Deciding which one of these is the correct meaning depends on the context, as it usually happens with words with different acceptions.

The Etymology is this one:

ORIGIN Middle English: from the obsolete adjective hail [healthy] (occurring in greetings and toasts, such as wæs hæil: see wassail ), from Old Norse heill.

which is related (it surprised me a bit) with Whole and its etymology:

ORIGIN Old English hāl, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch heel and German heil, also to hail (the quote I pasted above this one). The spelling with wh- (reflecting a dialect pronunciation with w-) first appeared in the 15th cent.

  • +1 for the etymology -- I knew about wassail, but not about whole -- that's nice.
    – senderle
    May 25, 2011 at 16:49

You need only look up the definition of hail:

  1. to cheer, salute, or greet; welcome.
  2. to acclaim; approve enthusiastically: The crowds hailed the conquerors. They hailed the recent advances in medicine.
  3. to call out to in order to stop, attract attention, ask aid, etc.: to hail a cab.

In this case, the second definition is most appropriate, although the first may apply as well.

Perhaps the "to" in "hail to the king" is confusing you though -- hail can also serve as a noun denoting the act of hailing, so there's an implicit imperative here: "give your hail to the king."

  • @senderle: OP asked for the meaning of the sentence, not the etymology, so I think your answer is far more appropriate than @Alenanno's. As you say, it can easily be looked up in any online dictionary anyway, so your point about use of to is the only thing that gives the question any merit in the first place. May 25, 2011 at 17:39
  • @FumbleFingers: My main answer was not the Etymology :D I just added it because I thought it could add an additional level of completeness. But my answer to him is visible before the horizontal line. Your comment makes me think that maybe it's not that visible...
    – Alenanno
    May 25, 2011 at 18:20
  • @FumbleFingers: I improved that part. :)
    – Alenanno
    May 25, 2011 at 18:33
  • @Alenanno: I didn't mean to slight your answer as such; it contains many interesting (although peripheral) points. My intent was purely to complement @senderle on sticking to the core of the question. Remember that most times Hail to the King has ever been said in earnest, the monarch himself would not even have been present. @senderle's acclaim; approve enthusiastically exactly covers the normal context with minimal distraction. May 25, 2011 at 21:21
  • @FumbleFingers: It's ok, criticising makes me improve my answers :)
    – Alenanno
    May 25, 2011 at 21:30

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