Did You Get Them at Hello?

In almost every culture it is appropriate to greet somebody who has entered into close proximity.  Likewise we send away that person with another verbal call or physical gesture.

Many cultures perform these civil duties with some version of “hello” and “goodbye”.  What are we communicating with these words?  We’ll get to that in a moment.  First some observations.

When we see somebody we like that we haven’t seen in some time, we are prone to some sort of greeting filled with emotion.  The words might be difficult to make out, but the rest of the body demonstrates to the other person that they are welcomed.

More frequently, our society seems to practice the departure of a disliked person with a profane mumbling under the breath.

Whatever our first and last words, we typically are blessing or cursing the arriving/departing person.  The mumbling mentioned above is an example of cursing.  What would happen if we were more intentional about extending an appropriate blessing as people enter and exit?


Let’s look at the word hello.  This word is actually a call to get one’s attention so that conversation might begin.  An earlier variation of the word is found in hallo which was used of calling dogs for a hunt.  The root is a Middle French word hola which was the combined word of ho meaning ahoy and la meaning there.

ho (ahoy) + la (there) = ahoy there = hola > hallo > hello

By definition, then, to say “hello” to somebody is to call their attention for the purpose of conversation.

***After reading the above section, I dare you to not think of saying “Ahoy, Matey” in a pirate voice to the next person you encounter.


What about the word goodbye?  Simply stated, this word is the contraction of four words.

God be with ye

When you tell somebody goodbye, you are invoking a blessing upon them that God would go with them.  In other words, you are praying that the person does not travel life’s path on their own but in the presence of the Lord.  It is a prayer of contrast.  The other person has been in your presence.  You are able to protect them.  As they leave, you can no longer protect them.  So you commit them to the presence of God.

Isn’t that an amazing concept?  Sadly, for most of us it is merely a concept.  We really don’t think like that when we utter our goodbyes.  We use the words because those are the words which have always been used.

If we have not succumbed to stripping the word of its meaning, we have allowed sappy sentimentality to replace it all together.  Have you heard or used this phrase, “I’m not going to say goodbye because it is so final.  I will just say see you later”?

If you are speaking to me, I hope you will invoke God’s presence with me on my journey.  Tell me goodbye and mean it.


I find it interesting that one of the few times our culture actually intends to bless somebody is when a person sneezes.  The next time somebody sneezes in a room with others, listen to all of the Gesundheits and God Bless You’s soon to follow.  Gesundheit is from the word for health, so it is a wish or prayer for the sneezers health.

God bless you after a sneeze seems clear enough, but it actually has a history.  Some believe that it originated in the Middle Ages to prevent the devil from entering a person’s soul through the upheaval of the sneeze.  Before the devil could make his entrance, the God bless you would block his path.

What if we did something different with our greetings?  I like the manner in which the Psalmist writes about giving a good and spiritual message when passing by (that’s entering and exiting).

The blessing of the LORD be upon you!

We bless you in the name of the Lord!

–Psalm 129:8

Sadly in this verse the Psalmist is writing about one who does not get these blessings because they are evil.  But it does indicate that it was normal to bless others in passing in this manner.

Possible Applications

1.  Actually speak The blessing of the LORD be upon you and/or We bless you in the name of the Lord! when you begin or end an encounter with somebody else.

2.  Say hello and/or goodbye while mentally praying the psalm’s blessings on the person with whom you are engaged.

If you chose to do either of these, I would love to hear about the response you get from others and the thoughts in your own mind.

The blessing of the LORD be upon you,