Alexander Graham Bell proposed using “ahoy” to answer the phone.

  • Old dial up telephone
Old dial up telephone
Janne Hamalainen/ Shutterstock

“Ahoy” is an 18th-century term most commonly used as a nautical greeting, though it was nearly reappropriated as the standard greeting for answering the phone. This suggestion came from Alexander Graham Bell — the inventor of the telephone — who received a patent for the device on March 7, 1876. Bell made the first phone call to his assistant Thomas Watson three days later, speaking the historic words: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” While that inaugural call lacked any special greeting, Bell proposed using “ahoy” as a suitable introduction for phone calls going forward. 

Bell’s contemporary Thomas Edison proposed an entirely different word for answering phone calls: “hello.” This relatively new term was first published in 1827, and despite its recency, Edison believed that “hello” was the perfect way to begin a phone call because it was easily distinguishable from other words. He first recommended using “hello” in an 1877 letter to the president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company of Pittsburgh, and the connection between “hello” and telephones only grew from there.

With both “ahoy” and “hello” as potential candidates, many early phone books accepted Edison’s suggestion, or derivations thereof. The very first phone book published — released by the Connecticut District Telephone Company in New Haven — recommended that readers begin phone calls with “a firm and cheery ‘hulloa.’” Other phone books of the time printed the term “hello” in their “how to” sections. By 1880, Bell’s “ahoy” suggestion fell by the wayside, while Edison’s “hello” was adopted as the standard.

You may also like