Tuesday January 21, 2020
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Bell vs. Edison: How ‘hello’ came into being

Thomas Edison

 By Aishwarya Nag Choudhury

When we pick up the phone and say ‘Hello’, seldom do we think of where the word came from and why is it that we most commonly say ‘hello’ instead of anything else. Even when we speak in vernacular, on receiving the phone we first expect to hear a ‘Hello’. So here’s the story of hello: where did it come from? Why is it used? Who coined the term?

A popular hoax on the internet and WhatsApp claims that ‘Hello’ was the name of Graham Bell’s wife. While it is true that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but at the same time it is equally true that he never used the word hello. Bell’s girlfriend was Maple Hubbard, whom he later married. The greeting was coined by Thomas Alva Edison.

 The telephone was patented in 1877.

Interestingly the term did not even exist at Bell’s time. The first call he made after the invention of the telephone was to his assistant and said, “Come here, I want to see you.” He preferred the word ‘Ahoy’ instead.

Edison got credit for the term hello but too vaguely, until Allen Koenigsberg, a classics professor having an interest in phonographs, looked into the case.

Koenigsberg’s five year long search led him to an unpublished letter unraveling the secret of the word “hello.” In the letter addressed to T.B.A David, president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh, Edison wrote “Friend David, I do not think we shall need a call bell as “Hello!” can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.” At this time, Edison thought of the utilization of the phone as a business device. David replied saying, “What do you think Edison!”

Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell

As Edison was proposing his greeting, rival Bell was trying to popularize ‘Ahoy’ as the greeting word for his device. However, ‘Hello’ trumped ‘Ahoy’ and became the first standard greeting, as Edison equipped telephone exchanges all over United States and operating manuals all over the world adopted it.

The first feisty competition ‘hello’ faced was ‘What is wanted?’ but that too didn’t succeed as by 1880, ‘Hello’ had emerged triumphant once again.

More than being a word, the term was a social liberator. It cut across borders and transformed the 19th century world in a few days.  “The phone overnight cut right through the 19th-century etiquette that you don’t speak to anyone unless you’ve been introduced,” Mr. Koenigsberg said.

Etymologically, there are many theories to the word. Some say it is a contradiction of archaic English “whole be thou” while other sources suggest it comes from the phrase ‘Hail thou’ as in translations of the bible. Another interpretation claims that the word came from ‘hola’ which means to stop and pay attention.


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Tips for Holding a Telephone Interview that Requires Translation

That’s not a problem—the cost is nearly zero, thanks to online messaging apps

Given how fast globalization is moving today, it’s already common for phone interviews to happen between people from different countries. Pixabay

Face-to-face interviews are what we’re traditionally used to, but sometimes they’re not doable because of distance. In this case, phone interviews are another option. 

Given how fast globalization is moving today, it’s already common for phone interviews to happen between people from different countries. That’s not a problem—the cost is nearly zero, thanks to online messaging apps. However, what if you have to interview someone who speaks a different language? 

It’s not an impossible feat—the solution is to get help from an interpreter. 

Phone Interviews with an Interpreter

Telephone, Interview, Translation
Face-to-face interviews are what we’re traditionally used to, but sometimes they’re not doable because of distance. Pixabay

In meetings and conferences, you typically see simultaneous interpreting. The interpreter talks at around the same time as the speaker, and the audience hears through headphones whichever of the two is using their native language. This prevents confusion and saves time. 

With phone interviews or remote setups in general, it’s far less doable. Consecutive interpreting is used instead, where the speaker and interpreter take turns. Depending on their personal style, the interpreter may either wait for the speaker to finish or interject on their own. 

By default, the interviewer and interviewee won’t be in the same location for the phone interview. If you’re using a telephone translation service, the interpreter is also remotely located, and all participants should have a telephone or computer with VoIP. 

Otherwise, the interpreter and interviewer can simply sit near each other. The most convenient setup here is to use a dual handset phone, which has two receivers that they can use all at once. Alternatively, they can put the phone on speaker mode, but the interview might be overheard and background noise might be distracting.

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Pros and Cons

 Even if you’ve had experience with interpretation for meetings before, phone interviews are a different situation altogether since these involve carefully evaluating the interviewee. Normally, the interviewer is responsible for asking thoughtful questions and analyzing the interviewee’s responses, but in a phone interview that requires interpretation, the interviewer must work in tandem with the interpreter. For the interview to be successful, the interpreter must convey the interviewee’s responses accurately. 

Another major factor is the lack of face-to-face contact. Body language is very expressive, and without being able to see it, the interpreter must rely on the words of the interviewee alone. At least twice as much time must also be allotted for the interview because the interpreter will essentially be repeating everything that both the interviewer and interviewee say. 


Telephone, Interview, Translation
In this case, phone interviews are another option. Pixabay

Setting Up

If you’re not placing a call directly, avoid using a cellphone as much as possible—opt for landline or a phone with dual handset instead. For calls placed through online apps, make sure that the internet connection is stable. Reserve a quiet space for the call, and do a trial run before to check the sound quality. 

Before the Interview

Because there’s a charge per minute for both offline calls and interpreting services, prepare your questions and discussion points to maximize time. 

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Regardless of how experienced an interpreter may be, consult with them at least a few days before and brief them about the interview. You can explain its purpose, give basic information about the interviewee, and share your list of questions. This way, the interpreter will have the mental space to prepare and review any niche-specific jargon that may come up. It’s also a good idea to ask the interpreter what their usual process is like. Do they interpret after every few sentences, or only when the speaker is done? What equipment have they tried before?

Likewise, the interviewee should also be aware before about the presence of an interpreter. Let them know about the interview setup and clarify that the interpreter will only be there to translate, not serve as another interviewer. 

During the Interview

Introduce everyone at the start. To keep the flow natural, be mindful of the interpreter and pause after long statements to give the interpreter a chance to speak up. There might be delays occasionally on the side of the interpreter because they’re grappling real-time with words that have no direct translation. 

Throughout the interview, maintain transparency by having the interviewee aware at all times of what you’re saying. Don’t have private conversations with the interpreter—everything that you say as the interviewee must be addressed to the interviewer, unless you’re asking the interpreter for clarification.  

After the Interview

Once the call ends, check in with the interpreter and ask if they want to expand on what they said, in case they weren’t able to formulate a full translation at any point in the interview because of time pressure. They can also bring up any cultural nuances that’ll shed more light on what the interviewee said. 

A phone interview with an interpreter on board is still ultimately an interview, so the same rules apply. Prepare well, give your full attention to the interviewee on hand, and by the end of it, you’ll still get the information you need. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore, and teaming up with an interpreter will help you conduct bilingual phone interviews successfully.