I got a business e-mail the other day (from an American) that started out with a one-word sentence: “Hullo.” The U.S. version, of course, is “hello.” I had always associated hullo with mum, except I sometimes encounter “mum” here, and I’d never seen an American “hullo.” Until now.
Poking around on the web for examples, I almost immediately encountered this quintessentially British quote from the quintessentially British P.G. Wodehouse (the narrator is the possibly even more quintessentially British Bertie Wooster):
“Hullo, Bobbie,” I said. “Hullo, Bertie,” she said. “Hullo, Upjohn,” I said. The correct response to this would have been “Hullo, Wooster”, but he blew up in his lines and merely made a noise like a wolf with its big toe caught in a trap.
Hello (first citation 1827) and hullo (1857) both have the same etymology as the verb holler, according to the OED, as do the older variants hallo (first seen in Dickens, in 1841) and hollo (Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus). Interestingly, an even earlier version is holla, which has recently come back in full force. The most popular definition on Urban Dictionary gives three meanings, the relevant one being, “A word used to acknowledge the presence of a fellow companion.” This example is offered: “Is that mah boy ova there? HOLLAAAAA!”
Generally, hello is indeed generally American and hullo generally British, through Google Ngram Viewer suggests some nuance:
The decline in hullo use on both sides of the Atlantic suggests that my e-mail correspondent’s use of the word was a one-off–about as likely to catch on as the similarly Wodehousian abbreviation for the thing we used to talk on: ‘phone.