December 23, 2010

The Origins of the Word "Goodbye"

Few people are aware that the origin of the farewell greeting "goodbye" has its origin in a parting prayer: "God be with ye".

To understand this, it is helpful to see earlier forms of the expression, such as God be wy you, god b'w'y, godbwye, god buy' ye, and good-b'wy. The first word of the expression is now good and not God, for good replaced God by analogy with such expressions as good day, perhaps after people no longer had a clear idea of the original sense of the expression.

In a quote from 1659, we still have "god":

"But mum for that, his strength will scarce supply His Back to the Balcona, so God b' wy."

And then by 1694, we have transitioned to "good":

"He flings up his tail..and so bids us good-b'wy."

A letter of 1573 written by Gabriel Harvey contains the first recorded use of goodbye: "To requite your gallonde [gallon] of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes," recalling another contraction that is still used. Shakespeare used "God be wy you".

The substitution of good for God seems to have been mainly due to the influence of such phrases as "good day" and "good night".

So next time you say "goodbye", remember the origin of the word is in fact a blessing.

God be with you!

Source 1 and 2