Goodbye’s Secret Past

Awe, goodbye. Such a short, little compound word can hold so much meaning. It can hold pain and longing. It can hold excitement and triumph. Sometimes, it doesn’t hold any meaning except a flippant desire to extricate yourself from a conversation.

But this two-syllable interjection has more to it than meets the eye. 

This semester, I am taking the capstone class for the English major at Colorado Christian University. It is called History and Structure of the English Language. Besides grammar bootcamp, this class is all about the development of English from its roots in  Indo-European, the lost mother language of all European languages.

It turns out that there are fascinating reasons why we speak the way we do and have the words we use. “Goodbye” is a case in point.

Here’s your history lesson for the day!

In the year 597, Pope Gregory I sent Augustine of Kent (as opposed to St. Augustine of Hippo) to England as a missionary. This Roman missionary activity brought the Latin alphabet to Old English, which was written in runes until scribes adopted the Latin letters from the missionaries.

By the late 14th-century, the Latin alphabet and Roman Catholicism had been established in England for hundreds of years. This caused the religious English people to exchange salutations using the phrase: “God be with ye.” 

However, the English were also fond of phrases like “Good day” and “Good night.” These “good” phrases began to influence “God be with ye” sometime in the 16th-century. Over the course of the 1500s, “God be with ye” morphed through stages such as: “God be wy you,” “God b’uy,” and “God buoye.”

By the 1570s, “God be with ye” had become “Goodbwye,” and during the 1590s it settled into its familiar spelling of “Goodbye.”

History lesson over!

So now you know, no matter what our intention behind saying goodbye, we are abbreviating “God be with ye!” 

“Rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  2 Corinthians 13:11

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Photo by Autumn Ruland

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