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Monday, October 29, 2012

[64] Three different stories...

... but... really different? In the present post I want to tell you three stories which will maybe change a little your perception of English... forever. Perhaps used gazillions of times per day by an average user of English, words such as "hello" and "OK" are probably the most frequent ones in the English language whatsoever. Have we ever thought for a while about where these words come from? If no, we`ve deprived ourselves of knowing immensely interesting stories of these words; their ups and downs and other linguistic adventures throughout centuries. Let`s then learn something about them now! 

So... uhm... If  I`m counting right these are two stories (one for OK, the other for HELLO), so what about the third one? That`s a surprise, which is to keep you reading this post up to its very end... ;)

Hello... Everyone says "hello" everywhere, again and again. Have you noticed that it is a more popular form of greeting somebody even if you don`t know him/her well? I mean, it`s more typical to hear "hello" in native speakers instead of "good morning/afternoon" etc. That`s the beauty of this word (and of the whole English too). 

"Hello" is believed to have arrived in England around the Norman Conquest in 1066. It then might have been used as "ho la" so "ho there!" Some say that this phrase gave rise to what was found in the poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer, the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. This form sounded like "hallow" at that time.  In Shakespearean times, so more or less two hundred years after Chaucer, "hallow" turned into "halloo". Other forms found at that time were: "halloa", or "hollo", used mostly by professions such as sailors or huntsmen, perhaps to locate one another in various circumstances typical of these professions. These forms later on became "hullo" and this is how people greeted each other in America during the 1800`s.

Interestingly, the first person to use "hello" was ... Thomas Alva Edison. Yes, the one who developed a light bulb. Upon using a telephone, which at that time was rather an unreliable device and might lead to misaprehensions, he once said "hello", as a result of mishearing the old good "hullo". Nevertheless, from this moment on the form "hello" has been used until now. Another interesting, and perhaps a bit shocking thing might be the fact that at that time people did not say "hello", nor even "hullo" on the phone. They simply shouted.... AHOY! Ahoy there!!!

What do the word "OK" and hello have in common? Probably the fact that there are no words in the English language which are used more frequently than these two. However, unlike in the case of "hello", the origin of "OK" remains unclear. 

One version says that something like "okeh" was used by the Chocktaw Tribe - a group of Indians living in the vicinity of the Mississippi Valley, who Europeans met when they came to the American continent. "Okeh" could have meant "it is so" and thus could be considered a sign of agreement. 

Others claim that "okay" was first used by John Jacob Astor, one of the richest men in the history of America. Some on the other hand believe that "okay" comes from the initials O.K. which belonged to Obadiah Kelly - a poor clerk who received packages from different people and those people tended to put those initials on these packages. 

But perhaps the most convincing explanation is that "okay" was invented by a political organization in the 1800`s.

Martin Van Buren was running for presidency. A group of his supporters created a club  - the "Okay Club" and again, the name was derived from the initials, this time of Old Kinderhook, the place in which Van Buren was born. 

There is however one thing about "okay" that experts agree on: this word is purely American and later on it was incorporated into the English lexis. 

So, finally, here comes the third story, a missing one. This will be something that once upon a time appeared on this blog. "Shilly-shally", a reduplicative, yeah, once again...

Even though I then explained it to the used under the nickname Faerie (it can be found here, below, in the discussion following the article), it`s worth mentioning here. "To shilly-shally" means no to know one`s own mind. Initially it was "Shall I, Shall I?" a question that a person could ask himself/herself if he/she didn`t know what to do. Then it became "Shall he?" Shall he?" and finally it changed into "shilly-shally". This is no longer a question; in fact it is often a command: "Don`t shilly-shally any more, make up your mind ASAP."

I hope you liked the idea of uncovering the mysteries and the unknown of something that is perfectly known. I guess this is nice. Always:)

Main source: 

Sutcliffe H., and H. Bergman 1978. Words and Their Stories. Washington D.C.: Voice of America.


  1. Good day! Does the frequency of updates of your portal depend on something or you create articles when you have an inspiration or you create in case you have time? Thank you very much in advance for your reply.

    1. Hi :) We try to post at least 3-4 articles per month, we even had a schedule of upcoming posts, but now it mostly depends on how much time we have and inspiration. Also, if there are any requests from our readers and we already have something else planned, we still try to squeeze it in.
      Hopefully this answer satisfies you :)