The Grammarphobia Blog

The long goodbye

Q: I have the habit of using “goodbye” in parting, but a lot of my friends say it should be used only when leaving someone for good. Am I using this correctly? I am from India and English is not my first language.

A: Yes, you’re using the word correctly. Standard dictionaries say “goodbye” (also spelled “good-bye” or “good-by”) has two meanings: (1) a remark at parting; (2) the act of parting.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s entry for the word (spelled “good-bye”) doesn’t include any evidence that the term was ever limited to a permanent leave-taking.

The OED says the word, which entered English in the 16th century, is a “contraction of the phrase God be with you (or ye).”

The dictionary speculates that the substitution of “good” for “God” may have been influenced by “such formulas of leave-taking as good day, good night, etc.”

The OED dismisses the idea, as some have suggested, that “goodbye” originated as “God buy you” (that is, God redeem you).

The earliest citation for “goodbye” in the OED is from a 1573 letter by the Elizabethan scholar Gabriel Harvey: “To requite your gallonde of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of how-dyes.” (A “pottle” is half a “gallonde,” or gallon.)

Published references in the dictionary suggest that “goodbye” (spelled various ways) and “God be with you” coexisted until the early 1800s, when the clipped version became the dominant usage.

Here’s the longer expression in Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) by Shakespeare: I thanke your worship, God be wy you.”

And here it is 70 years later in a 1668 entry from Samuel Pepys’s diary: To Mr. Wren to bid him ‘God be with you.’ ”

In case you’d like to read more, we’ve written several items on our blog that touch on “goodbye,” including postings in 2009 and 2011.

And now we’ll bid you a gallonde of godbwyes.

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