SOMETHING terrible has befallen "Hello!" and "Whatever" as greetings, and it's a wonder if we can still reverse their downward spiral in recent years to becoming hallmarks of rudeness. "Hello!" is now the ultimate public putdown, as when a Manila TV talk show host habitually used it a few years back to bludgeon a guest in the sense and tone of "What you say is nonsense so you must be out of your mind!" On the other hand, the pronoun "whatever," in better days a respectable word for uncertainty, is now the slashing verbal equivalent of a sneer, as when a teenage son or daughter uses it to summarily dismiss parental advice in the sense of "Go to hell with whatever you want!"

But it would be such a pity if we throw "Hello!" to the gutter for all time. Many shades better than the juvenile sounding "Hi!", this greeting has been a faithful handmaiden to the telecommunications age since it was first pressed into service as a telephone salutation on August 15, 1877 by the great inventor Thomas Edison. The device was getting popular and users desperately wanted a quick, more pleasant way to start phone conversations and answer calls.

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