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Etymology of Goodbye

Updated on September 16, 2014
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

Hello Hello.... I don't know why you say goodbye when I say hello

Regretfully they tell us
But firmly they compel us
To say goodbye . . .To you
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight

- The Sound of Music

We all say goodbye, but how many of us know what we are actually saying when we say it. Sure we all know its the common method in the english language of saying farewell, but do many of us have any clue what goodbye really means?

Learn More About the English Language and the Etymology of Words

Dictionary Definition

The dictionary defines goodbye as:


Used to express good wishes when parting or at the end of a conversation.


An instance of saying "goodbye"; a parting: "a final goodbye".


farewell - valediction - adieu - parting - leave - vale

The Dictionary tells only part of the story. Goodbye is a word that stretches back to medieval history.

The History Of Goodbye's

The Etymology of Goodbye

English speaking people have been using the word for centuries but few actually realize it is a contraction, kind of like saying don't instead of do not. Goodbye is a contraction of the phrase God Be With You. I know, your probably looking at goodbye and saying that doesn't resemble good be with you in any way shape or form, well that's because it's a contraction in old english not modern english.

To go into more detail we must go back to a time when the english language was young and there was not formalized way to spell words, that's right in old english you spelled the way you felt like there was no such thing as a dictionary to make sure you had the spelling right, there were no spelling drills in school you just spelled the way you thought things sounded. So lets examine goodbye, originally most times it was spelled godbwye, and if you still can't see the contraction lets expand using modern contraction rules (sort of) god'b'w'ye or god be with ye.

Did Ya Know?

Did you know that goodbye really meant god be with you?

See results

Heathens Read This

No, seriously read this, I am NOT insulting you

Don't worry, I'm not gonna thump my bible, in fact I am a heathen, in that I am not a christian, I am an agnostic.

If you were shocked by this and want to stop using good-bye in order to stop wishing people god be with you, fine, but pause for a moment. The English language is a living language, which means meanings to words change over time. Yes, goodbye meant god be with you, but that is an outdated archaic meaning that has no bearing on modern language. In the end goodbye simply means farewell.

The etymology of goodbye is simply the history of the word, it no longer means this for most people, and since definitions of words are agreed upon by the masses it need not mean it ever again. Knowing the history of a word is interesting, but not really relevant to the current meaning.

Do you know of some words with strange histories? - Share with us!

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      TheDeeperWell 5 years ago

      Could be that "God be with you" is just a statement of what is...that God is always with us. It is all the human-derived God descriptions and dogma that get in the way (God is not a word or a concept, just the natural "stuff" that permeates all of us). I think that when the phrase was started so long ago, people really needed the help of "God" in their hard lives. I guess that is still true...

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      cmadden 5 years ago

      Moce mada! (Goodbye in Fijian)

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      sherioz 5 years ago

      Love this lens. I still prefer "hello" to "goodbye", but then if you don't say "goodbye" sometimes, you don't get another chance to say "hello", so you?!

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      This was VERY interesting. Thanks and Goodbye

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      I find the history of language to be a fascinating thing. Thanks!

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      jimmyworldstar 6 years ago

      I wasn't aware that goodbye was a contraction of God be with you. I heard "OK" had something to do with a corral. How that matches with an affirmation I have no idea.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Just about every word in English has a strange and enchanting history. I love 'em all