I'm writing a text that includes Death personified (e.g., "The Seventh Seal" - Bergman; Doktor Faustus - Mann) He speaks in early modern English from the time of Chaucer. I'd like to know how he would say 'hello'.

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    Chaucer is actually Middle English -- which is in the title, and I've added the tag. Early Modern English is more like Shakespeare and the King James Bible.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 23, 2020 at 10:11
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    I'm most grateful to those who have answered, although I can't use 'Hail' - the answer that they all offered. Whilst 'hail' was a common greeting in medieval times, the word is now too often associated with tongue-in-cheek facetiousness, as is evident from the title of the Coen Brothers' satirical movie about Hollywood, 'Hail, Caesar!'. It's also a tad too close to the German 'Heil' with its Nazi associations. In the context of the text I'm writing, alas, it's inappropriate. But thanks, guys, for trying. Apr 23, 2020 at 13:54
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    @DavidBourne Welcome to EL&U, but as a reminder, this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum or writers' workshop. You have received definitive answers with authoritative sources, so whichever of those is the most useful still deserves to be acknowledged as the correct one, even if it turns out it wasn't suitable for your purposes.
    – choster
    Apr 23, 2020 at 19:57
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    "the word is now too often associated with tongue-in-cheek facetiousness" I don't think this is true, at all.
    – Alex M
    Apr 23, 2020 at 21:30
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    Why not lean into the skid? "Hail" is apparently derived from "health", after all, so Death using it would be double facetious!
    – No Name
    Apr 23, 2020 at 22:19

5 Answers 5


The Middle English equivalent for 'hello' was hail.

Origin of hail: Middle English from the obsolete adjective hail ‘healthy’ (occurring in greetings and toasts, such as wæs hæil see wassail), from Old Norse heill, related to hale and whole.

Where Does 'Hello' Come From?

It may be true that OK is the most spoken word on the planet, but hello is a good candidate for the English word that most people learn first. The word is so ubiquitous that it’s surprising how new it is: hello has only been in use for about the last 150 years of the 1000-year history of English.

An older term used for greeting or salutation is hail, which dates back to the Middle Ages but was still in use in Shakespeare’s time; he used it both as a greeting (“Hail to your grace“) and as an acclamation (“Hail, Caesar!”). Interestingly, this word is related to others that originally meant “health,” such as hale, health, and whole. Since hail was presumably sometimes shouted (from a horse, across a river, from a tower), it isn’t surprising that several variants are recorded, including hollo, hallo, and halloa. Another variant of this interjection has subsequently had a long life as a noun and verb: holler.

[Merriam Webster]

From Speech Acts in the History of English:

For Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern English the MED and the OED were searched for the senses "greeting", "salutation", "welcome", "hello" and "how are you"........ The only Middle English daughter forms of OE hal can be found in the following 1225 OED quotation, where it occurs as an interjection:

(3) Hoal ði godnesse!
hail thy deity
Hail to thy deity!*

Lee Ballentine in an article on Quora wrote:

In medieval England, Hail fellow was a common greeting. By the 16th century this had morphed a bit into the more elaborate form "Hail fellow, well met." "God save you" would also have been a conventional greeting.

From The Saturday Evening Post:

Hello is a greeting that is understood almost everywhere in the world, but it hasn’t always been so. In fact, hello is a relatively young word, dating only back to 1827 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Before that, all the way back to the Middle Ages, hail was a common English greeting. (The word is related to health, so it was not only a salutation but well-wishing.) Through the combination of dialects, accents, and the lack of an authority on English spelling, a number of variants of hail developed over the centuries, including hollo and hallo. But even into the 19th century, these words weren’t used as greetings, but to indicate surprise or to attract someone’s attention — much in the same way we use hey and yoo-hoo today.

Another equivalent was Good morrow/morning.

According to Hobby Lark:

How to Speak at a Renaissance Faire

Greetings and Goodbyes
Good day -> Hello/Good morning.
Good morrow -> Hello/Good morning.
Well met! -> Nice to see you!
How met! -> How are you?
Farewell -> Goodbye.
I bid thee farewell -> Goodbye.
Anon -> I will see you later.


King Lear was written in about 1605. Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales some two hundred years before. Here are two greetings from that poem.

  • In The Summoner’s Tale Thomas’s wife greets Friar John with "Ey, maister, welcome be ye, by Seint John! . . . how fare ye, hertely?",

  • and in The Miller’s Tale Absolon greets Alisoun with "What do ye, hony-comb, sweete Alisoun?" (information from Jucker (2011).

[Keith Johnson - The History of Early English_1.1 Saying hello in Old, Middle and Early Modern English] [all the above is a quote]

I can't see Death being quite so solicitous.


al-heil interj.

Etymology Cp. heil!

Definitions (Senses and Subsenses)

A salutation used on meeting someone: your health!, hello!; addressed to an enemy in quot. a1420.

(Middle English Compendium)


'What cheer' and variants such as 'wotcha' was used until the telephone meant you couldn't see if anyone was there.

The full version of the original greeting was 'what cheer with you?'. This is recorded in the York Mysteries, circa 1440:

"Say Marie doghtir [daughter], what chere with ye?"

Like many words that are very frequently spoken, 'cheer' became used as a verb as well as a noun. Shakespeare, amongst others, used the verb form in The Merchant of Venice, 1596:

How cheer'st thou Jessica?


  • 1
    That was still in use (face-to-face) when I was at school, shortened to "Utcher".
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 25, 2020 at 9:23
  • In East Anglia, "watchya" was the most common of common greetings in my youth (50 years ago), but I don't know if people there still use it. Apr 29, 2020 at 1:02

One of the greetings in middle english was Good morrow.

Good morrow [interjection]

Definition of good morrow (archaic): GOOD MORNING

Good-morrow noun (archaic): GOOD MORNING

then to come, in spite of sorrow, and at my window bid good-morrow — John Milton

First Known Use of good morrow Interjection

15th century, in the meaning defined above


1528, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for good morrow Interjection

Middle English good morwe



Merriam webster says it is from Middle English

Also from Lexico

Good morrow (EXCLAMATION archaic): Good morning.

Also check out https://thoughtcatalog.com/lance-pauker/2014/02/19-words-from-medieval-times-that-we-should-bring-back/


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