Retired African American Woman Waving

Not many people greet each other with “hello” anymore.

In several of my previous columns, I shared with readers the sources of the subjects of some of these weekly columns. I pointed out that many of my columns are the result of everyday life experiences.

Some are the result of information read in newspapers and magazines. Other subjects come from observations of television programming or what I hear on the radio. Stories I hear around the Tribune office, discussions at social events and Sunday morning messages from my pastor have also triggered memories of the past that often appear in my columns.

Today’s column has been motivated by a poem passed on to me by one of my church members who is also my fraternity brother, Donald Hackney. The poem he shared with me was written by Calvin Dixon along with his brother, Robert Brown, on a thought that took me back in time. Obviously, the focus of this column could not have been written by a “whipper snapper” and had to come from people like Dixon and Brown who are senior citizens.

The poem took me back in time to those good old back in the day, days. Dixon and Brown’s poem, “The Day Hello Died,” which reads: “The day Hello died was a very sad day for people who knew Hello. Hello, was very well known and loved; older people knew Hello very well. He was introduced to Kings and queens, doctors, lawyers, housewives and little children. Hello, would always greet you with a hearty welcome by just saying his name. Hello, had never married, he was just too busy speaking to be tied down; we just can’t believe Hello passed. Hello’s age wasn’t known for sure but most people said Hello had lived for thousands of years. Hello, leaves to mourn Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night, How are you and Have a Nice Day (Sadly all of these have suffered poor health lately). Instead of flowers, all who loved Hello are invited to donate acts of kindness or displays of common courtesy to all.”

I suspect that some of you do not know Hello. But, many of you remember Hello, from back in the day.

Before taking a look at why Hello died, let us understand when and how Hello was born. I turned to a reliable source, Merriam Webster Dictionary that provided some insight with regard to understanding its death. I learned that “OK” is the most spoken work on the planet but hello is a good candidate for the English word that most people learn first. What I did not know and learned from Merriam Webster is that hello is relatively new and has only been in use for about 150 years of the 1,000-year history of English.

An older term used for greeting is “hail” which goes back to the Middle Ages. “Hail” has several related words that were used in the past such as hale, health, whole, hollo, hallo, halloa and holler.

But, information obtained from Merriam Webster, indicates that hello is first recorded in the early 1800s and was originally used to attract attention. But, it was Thomas Edison’s introduction of the telephone that claimed to have introduced the use of hello upon receiving a telephone call that required people to address an unseen and unknown person. Greetings such as “Do I get you” and “Are you there?” were some of the early telephone greetings. Alexander Graham Bell, for his entire life, preferred “Ahoy” when answering the telephone and if left up to him “Ahoy” would be the manner in which the telephone would have been answered.

Hello caught on and became the traditional way to answer the telephone. I read a humorous story that has no factual basis regarding the use of “hello” in answering the telephone. It has been reported that when Bell made his first telephone call, it was made to his girlfriend whose first name was Hello. So, the first telephone call that the world knew was to Hello and because of connection problems, Bell had to say her name over and over again. Thus, hello became the customary manner to answer the telephone. So, how did hello become used outside of telephone conversations? No one really knows. We do know, however, that hello is used to express surprise, it is used to attract someone’s attention and some use hello to express sarcasm. Regardless of its origin, consistent with the words of Dixon and Brown, hello has been left to die, back in the day.

In my developmental years, my parents emphasized the importance of saying “hello.” Whether it was passing someone on the street or walking into a room full of people, even strangers, you said “hello.” It was unacceptable not to say “hello.” Not saying “hello” was rude, it was indicative of bad manners. “Hello” may have taken other forms such as “Hi there; Hey; “What’s up?;” “My man;” “Greetings” or perhaps a nod of the head or a fist or chest bump. Whatever the acknowledgement, it was a recognition of your desire to be friendly; to be engaged; a sign that you cared. “Hello” was also evidence that you had good manners and that you were the recipient of good home training, back in the day.

When growing up, I heard lectures from elderly folk directing young people to say “hello.” “Can’t you speak was a constant refrain,” when I failed to acknowledge people that I met. Regardless of the venue, church, school, work or a social gathering, as a child or teenager, when you came into contact with others, you were expected to say hello. Even when the venue was one where you were not accustomed to being present, you were still expected to say “hello.” An article posted online reminded me of something that most of us understood, back then; something that would bode well for young folk to embrace today. This posting is very simple; it takes little effort to say “hello;” after all, it is but one word. But, I know what some of you are thinking. Why bother to say hello when many people do not have the decency to respond? Many of you recall prior encounters where those you have greeted with a hello did not respond. There are also those that are the recipients of hello and fail to respond because of familiarity with the person making the greeting. This is seen in many situations where the two parties are very familiar with one another. I am certain that you will agree that the closeness of a relationship is no excuse not to take the one or two seconds required to say hello. You should definitely understand the significance of saying “hello” when a stranger comes into your midst. Put yourself in the place of a stranger coming into contact with others and no one says hello. In many situations, this could be the first and last time you may decide to mingle with this group. After all, not being acknowledged may result in your feeling unwelcomed. But, a mere hello brings the stranger or newcomer into a group or a relationship with ease. The hello makes them feel welcomed. In discussing the death of hello with a friend, he pointed out that in the past and even today, hello was always alive and has remained alive in the South. Many living in the North today who are from the South embrace the value of saying “hello.” If you have traveled in the South or interact with southerners today, you must notice that they seem to say hello to everyone. Just walking down the street and coming into contact with droves of people, you can expect that they will say hello to everyone they meet. My dear mother, a product of Walterboro, South Carolina, was a “hello” person. When I would go out with her to the supermarket, shopping in Center City, to familiar or unfamiliar places, my mother would speak to everyone. Saying “hello” was so prevalent until I would become annoyed, attempting to walk around her as she slowed to say “hello.” My mother may have set the record in how often she said hello during the course of a week. This seems to be indigenous to those, like my mother, that grew up in the South and were indoctrinated with the warmth and customs of that way of life, back in the day.

So, what happened to “Mister or Miss Hello”? We all know that things have changed significantly. Saying “hello” is passé; it is not part of today’s dog eat dog world. Some feel that it is just not cool.

People, in particular our millennials, have not embraced hello as part of their regular vocabulary. Many of them do not even answer the telephone with “hello.” Not saying “hello,” however, has been with us for some time; it is not new. In recent years, I have given more thought to the value of saying “hello” for it is the start of a relationship. I have been told that one must be able to say “hello” before welcoming people in any other fashion into your life.

So, let me salute Dixon and Brown for highlighting and recognizing an old friend of many of us “old school folk.” Perhaps it will encourage a meeting for some and a reintroduction of others to an important person in our lives; a person named Hello that was integral to our warm and healthy way of life, back in the day

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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