Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 16:36:05 +0200
From: David Sutcliffe
Subject: Re: hello, hello

The use of "ahoy" for "hello" on the telephone underlines the fact that
"halloa" (etc.) was first used for hailing, or "hallooing".

The earliest attestation of hello (et al) as greeting /interjection that
the OED gives for British English is 1840:

"Halloa there! Hugh," roared John.
(Barnaby Rudge)

An 1857 attestation is:

"Hullo, who's there."
(Tom Brown's Schooldays. I, XI)

But in fact as a verb, the OED can go further back, to 1781:

They were all halloaing at this oddity.
(Madame D'Arblay: Diary, May)

I was wondering what colloquial greetings if any, predated "hello"? in
the United States. For British English I found early-mid 19th century
_What cheer!_ in Dickens - something I used as a child, pronounced "what
CHER". As in the old London song "Knocked me in the Old Kent Road",
which starts:

"What cher!" all the neighbours cried. "Who're you gonna meet Bill?
Have you bought the street, Bill?"

Another older form that's still occasionally heard is _What-o!"_
(probably "what-ho!")

David Sutcliffe