Hello, or is it Hallo? Or could it even be Hullo?  This most common of English words has a variety of spellings and even more pronunciations and intonations.  But what does it mean?   “Silly question!”, you may say, “It’s just a greeting. There isn’t a meaning”.  But you may discern all kinds of meaning in the way the word is spoken.  There can be a warm hello, a polite hello, a gruff hello, or even a sullen hello.  But let’s look deeper.


This commonplace greeting has been in use for centuries.  It has several possible source words, but a strong contender is the word “hallow”.  That word has largely gone out of use in its basic form, although it exists in place names (e.g., the village of “All Hallows”), in a calendar date (“All Hallows Day”, otherwise known as “All Saints Day”) and in derivative forms, such as “hallowed” (as in hallowed ground).  That’s a clue to the original meaning of “hallo”.  Hallowed means holy, so our most common greeting word falls into the same category as greetings or farewells in other languages, like the Spanish “adios” or the French “adieu” (both of which mean “to God”) and the Austrian and southern German greeting “grüß Gott” (pronounced “grooss got”, and literally meaning “greet God”).  Indeed, English used to have similar greetings, such as “Godspeed” and “God rest you”.  Who knew that “hello” had anything to do with God?


Going back through history, we find times when it was normal to bring God into everyday conversation.  Most people believed in God, whether or not they gave Him genuine allegiance.  By contrast, we live in an age when it’s fashionable to be atheist.  I don’t go for that myself.  I believe in God, and I believe in prayer, and I like the idea that an everyday greeting can be a prayer. 


If you’re a praying person, why not consider the power of praying for everyone you meet?  Prayers can be long and wordy, but they don’t have to be.  They can be short.  They can be wordless.  They can even consist of a single word.  It’s intention that makes it into a prayer.  Here’s how it can work:
Take to heart the holy origins of a simple “Hello”.  Think of it as a prayer of blessing. Hallow your hallo, but it needn’t even be that word.  You can invest the same intent in “Hi!” or “Good morning” – it’s intent that makes it into a prayer.   Nobody needs to know that you’re praying for them, but you know what you intend, and God will accept your intention.  Say your hellos as naturally and normally as ever, but think of them as individual prayers meant to bless the person you’re greeting.  That can add up to a lot of prayers – and prayer changes things.

© Derrick Phillips 2021

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