The origins of the words "hello" and "goodbye". By English with Stephen

Word Stories: Hello and goodbye

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at the origins of the words “hello” and “goodbye”.

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Ahoy! Hail, dear listener! Hullo!

No, they aren’t right. What you were probably expecting was something like ‘hello!’

So, let’s start again.

Hello and welcome to English with Stephen. My name is Stephen Greene and today we are looking at the origin of the words ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’.

All that, after this.

Before we get started, I’d like to remind you about my Facebook page English with Stephen. In the last few weeks, it has got a lot of new followers. Every day, I try to post a question or an image and invite people to write about it. I always give feedback to the people who write something. So, if you want to join a community that uses English, please come and join us. Remember, the Facebook page is called English with Stephen, or you can find links on my site

Back to hello and goodbye.

And let’s start with one of the first words you ever learn when studying English: ‘hello’.

Hello is actually a relatively new word. If you know your Shakespeare, he used the word ‘hail’, as in ‘Hail Cesar’! The idea was that you would say ‘hail’ and then the name of the person you were hailing’. We can still use ‘hail’ when we are trying to get a taxi or using Uber.

‘Hail’ is also associated with other commonly used words, such as ‘health’ and ‘whole’. However, my favourite word connected with ‘hail’ is ‘holler’. ‘Holler’ can mean ‘to shout loudly’ when used as a verb, or ‘a loud shout’ when used as a noun. What I like about the word, though is its sound. Holler. It has a pleasing quality to it. Holler.

Anyway, it was only in the 1800s that ‘hello’ became more common, but in a slightly different way. It was originally used to express surprise and it can still be used in this way today, for example, ‘well hello, what do we have here?’.

‘Hello’ became an accepted way of greeting someone with the rise of the telephone as it became a standard way of opening a conversation. Something like ‘Hello, this is Stephen. Who is speaking, please?’

One of the people most associated with inventing the telephone, Sir Alexander Graham Bell, wanted people to use a different word. He preferred ‘ahoy’ instead of ‘hello’. ‘Ahoy’ is commonly used on ships to get the attention of people on a different ship or on land.

Anyway, as The Beatles almost once sang, “you say hello and I say goodbye”, so let’s now move onto the origin of the word “goodbye”.

Until the 1500s, the standard way of saying goodbye was ‘God be with ye’. ‘Ye’ was an old English word for ‘you’. Over time, this expression was abbreviated to ‘God b’wi ye’ and later this was shortened even further to ‘God b’ye’. By the 1600s, the ‘God’ part of the phrase was changed to ‘good’ and the ‘b’ye’ had changed to ‘bye’. The reason why ‘God’ changed to ‘good’ was probably because of other expressions like ‘good night’ or ‘good morning’. Saying ‘goodbye’ fit into the same pattern as the other expressions.

On a side note, ‘goodbye’ can be used when we are leaving someone at any time of the day. ‘Good night’ similar, but of course can only be used at night. ‘Good night’ cannot be used when we say ‘hello’. If you want to say ‘hello’ at night, then it is better to say ‘good evening’. A good example of this is when you watch the news at night. At the start, the newsreader will say ‘good evening and here is the news’, while at the end they will probably say ‘thank you and good night’.

Before I say goodbye, remember to come and follow me on my Facebook page. You can find it under English with Stephen or by going to my site If you don’t use Facebook, you can also find me on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Thanks for listening, and well, goodbye!

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