I've been reading Agatha Christie's novels over the past few months and I have to admit to how captivating they are. As I was reading her novel "The Secret Of Chimneys", I came across a few words that seemed probably odd to me and I just had to ask this question.

Firstly, the word "Hullo".

Was it how they basically said "Hello" back in old England?

Second, the sentence "You are in error, Mr Lomax. To my knowledge I have not this lady seen before. A complete stranger she is to me". My question is in "I have not this lady seen before", is this another way of basically saying "I have not seen this lady before"? So is it just a matter of sentence structure?

I have to admit to the amount of perfect english used in this novel specifically. I have not read anything so captivating and nicely written in quite sometime. Thus I appreciate the help!

  • The inverted syntax (have not this lady seen before) is not idiomatic. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 2 '16 at 16:57
  • 10
    The speaker is a foreigner, from an imaginary Central European country, and speaks English using the syntax of his own language--a syntax which Christie imagines is similar to that of German. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 2 '16 at 16:57
  • I was puzzled as a small child that the everyday word that we pronounced "hallo" was not written that way, but we were supposed to write it "hello" or "hullo", though that was not how anybody that I knew said it. – Colin Fine Apr 2 '16 at 17:05
  • 2
    @TRomano Sounds like Yoda. – Cascabel Apr 2 '16 at 22:15
  • 2
    @Scarl: as StoneyB said above, the speaker is not a native speaker and is imposing the syntax of his native language upon the English utterance. I haven't read the story, but the syntax seems close to German "ich habe nicht diese Dame gesehen" [I have not this lady seen]. In English, we would not postpone the past-participle like that. We'd say, "I have not seen this lady". Just as above I did not say "I have not this story read." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 3 '16 at 11:37

In short, yes, "hullo" was likely more common in England, at least during Agatha Christie's childhood.

According to Wikipedia, "hullo" predates "hello" by at least several decades. "Hello" with this spelling is attributed to Thomas Alva Edison as part of the telephone operator's manual, starting in 1877.

Edison's "hello" was probably a variant of "hullo" and "hello" or similar calls which are far more ancient (one variant even appear in Shakespeare). It is described here (in a quote from a 1926 dictionary) as an Americanism, with Englishmen preferring the "native hullo".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.