It seems that the reports of the demise of the Metro Post have been premature. After last week's announcement, there was a sudden outpouring of support. So, yes, that means the paper lives!
I'm taking this reprieve as an opportunity to effect a change in column name. I've asked my editors to rename it to -- what else? -- Village Idiot Savant. This is the first piece, intended for August 6, 2006.
"Hello." It's a simple five-letter word of two short syllables but it's taken on a universally understood meaning that transcends cultural barriers. It's the common greeting of our age, as easily adaptable for casual meetings as it is for formal introductions as well as electronic communications. As much as it is a salutation, it's also an invitation; it means "I am open to you, I am ready to listen."
One would think that its origins started with the telephone, the greeting being one that it's synonymous with, but that isn't the case. While the telephone served to make the greeting popular, it was in use in the English language well before the telephone's invention. Alexander Graham Bell initially thought of using "Ahoy!" instead. It was actually Thomas Edison who proposed "hello."
The word's etymology is hard to pin down exactly as there are so many phonetic analogs in other languages, all with roughly the same usage. In Spanish, there's "hola." In Russian, there's "allo." In Portuguese, "ola." In German, "hallo." In Hungarian, "hallom" (I hear you.) In English alone, there are various conjectures: a contraction of the archaic greeting "Whole be thou" as well as the biblical "Hail."
Preceding "hello" were "hullo" and "hallo." "Hullo" was in common use as a greeting before "hello." Additionally, it was also used as an expression of pleasant surprise. "Hallo" and its variants "hollo", "holloa", "halloo", and "halloa" were used in hunting to signify that the quarry had been spotted.
Perhaps it's something in the phonetics of the word. It's quite distinctive and it's easy to hear. It's also quite easy to shout out loud. That was the reason Edison proposed it as a telephone greeting. "Hello! can be heard from 10 to 20 feet away," he said in a letter to the president of a telephone company.
And there are other uses for "Hello." The very first program you create in a computer language that's new to you is traditionally "Hello, world." Among the younger set, it's an expression of mild disbelief and annoyance: "Hello-ooo?" For maximum effect, you're supposed to tap your hand to your head once and fling the hand outwards in exasperation as you say this.
"Hello" is the opposite of "goodbye," and while that word has its own history and etymology, I only bring it up in the context of my previous column in the Metro Post. Last week, I bade goodbye as I thought it would be the very last issue of the paper. But good friends who have already bidden their fare-thee-wells sometimes change their minds and tarry a bit longer and trade more stories. That's exactly how I feel right now.