Monthly Archives: January 2016

The history of goodbye


For a while now, I have been reading Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux.  I will admit that it’s not the most engrossing book I’ve ever read.  But I am keeping at it for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, though its coverage of Victorian politics is (to me) mostly forgettable, its dialogue is sparkling.  Secondly, I am working my way through Trollope’s “Palliser” series, and I don’t want to disturb the continuity by aborting my reading of this volume.

Since my attention is not riveted, I find myself digressing at times, to think about particular words that Trollope makes use of, and possible differences in their meaning (or shades of meaning) between 1873 (when PR was published) and the present.  Take this letter embedded in the novel, from a young woman, to the man she is engaged to.  I will reproduce only the ending:

I shall send this to your club, and I hope that it will reach you.  I suppose that you are in London.

Good-bye, dearest Gerard.

Yours most affectionately,


If there is anything that troubles you, pray tell me.  I ask you because I think it would be better for you that I should know.  I sometimes think that you would have written if there had not been some misfortune.

God bless you.

I started thinking about the “Good-bye” in “Good-bye, dearest Gerard”.  I had some inkling that “good-bye” came from “God be with you”, but wasn’t sure when or how that transition occurred.  As usual in such cases, I consulted the mighty (unabridged, of course), unique, and almost unfathomable … Oxford English Dictionary.


Being “on historical principles”, its principal claim to greatness — for me at least — is that it provides examples of the usage of a word (or phrase) down through the hundreds (nay thousands) of years that the English language has existed.  The first such quotation represents the earliest known use of the given word.  (And in the case of obsolete terms,  the last quotation is from the period when the term was last in use.)

Before actually looking up “good-bye”, I tried to guess (as is my custom) when the word first appeared.  Or more precisely (in this case) when the first appearance of the modern “good-bye” — approximately so spelled — took place.  My guess was around the beginning of the 1700’s.  Here is the relevant part of the OED’s “good-bye” entry … which, as usual, clearly delineates the evolution of spelling, and meaning.  You will be able to see if I was correct in my “timing” guess, or not:


. . . . . . .

1.1 As an exclamation:  A form of address at parting; farewell.  Also in”to bid”, “say good bye” (to).

1588 Shakes.  L.L.L. iii. i. 151, I thanke your worship, God be wy you.

1591 ? 1 Hen.  VI, iii. ii. 73 God b’uy my Lord.

1600 Heywood 2 Edw.  IV, Wks.  (1874) I. 141 Gallants, God buoye all.

1602 Shakes.  Ham. ii. ii. 575, I so, God buy’ ye [1604 Qo. 2 God buy to you].

1607 Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girl D j b, Farewell.  God b’y you Mistresse Gallipot.

a 1652 Brome City Wit i. ii.  Wks. 1873 I. 289 Heartily Godbuy, good Mr. Crasy.

a 1659 Cleveland Lond.  Lady 54 But mum for that, his strength will scarce supply His Back to the Balcona, so God b’ wy.

[1668 Pepys Diary 6 Aug., To Mr. Wren, to bid him ‘God be with you!’]

1694 Acc.  Sev.  Late Voy. ii. 152 He flings up his tail..and so bids us good-b’wy.

1707 E. Ward Hud.  Rediv.  II. ii. 6 So to a Feast should I invite ye You’d stuff your Guts, and cry, Good bwi’t’ye.

1719 D’Urfey Pills III. 135 Good B’ w’ ‘y! with all my Heart.

1811 W. R. Spencer Poems 141 When How-d’y-do has failed to move, Good-bye reveals the passion!  [emphasis mine]

1818 Byron Juan i. ccxxi, And so your humble servant, and good-b’ye!

1860 Tyndall Glac. i. xviii. 122 We then bade Ulrich good-bye, and went forward.

1874 F. C. Burnand My time x. 87 Then he said good-bye to me..and so left me.

As in the case of many other words, Shakespeare seems to be the first source.  (Though, to be sure, “God be wy you” still seems more like a phrase than an actual word.  Also note that the first given source of the NOUN “good-bye”, not shown here — as distinguished from the exclamation we are discussing — is a letter written by one G. Harvey in 1573.)  In any event, you will see that my guess about the 1700’s was wrong; in fact, “Good-bye”, so spelled, first arises in a poem by W.R. Spencer, in 1811!  (Note that this is NOT the same writer as the more celebrated Edmund Spenser, who along with spelling his last name differently, lived in the 16th century.)

Let us come back to the Trollope for a minute.  After I absorbed the OED information,  Adelaide’s  “Good-bye”, in her letter, seemed different than the plain “farewell” I had construed it to be at first.  I believe that there really still is an element of the “God be with you” sense here.  First of all, it seems a bit odd to bid a overt “farewell” to another person when you write to them (especially if you are attached to them); after all you have not been physically together with them.  Secondly, consider the “God bless you” at the letter’s very end.  It seems to resonate with the “God be with you” aspect of the “Good-bye”.

OK, so let us now bid Good-bye to that little digression … and let us march bravely forward with Phineas Redux!


Update 16feb2016:  I am very glad that I stuck with Phineas Redux.  A bit more than halfway through, a dramatic event occurs … and the book catches fire!


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Buried Treasure


Know that theme (now science fiction, perhaps to be a fact someday) of finding a worm-hole in spacetime, and using it to squirt yourself to some other distant part of the universe?  (Or, to another universe?)  Well, I experience something along these lines — if not quite as exotic — in reading, when I get a pointer to some other writer.  And if I am fond of the original author, the chances are rather good that I will find what is pointed to, to be of interest.

Recent example:  I was immersing myself in Sue Grafton’s latest “alphabet” detective novel, entitled (surprisingly), X.  (Yes, just X.  Not “X is for something”, as has been her pattern for the previous 23 letters of the alphabet.)   I came across this:


You’ll see the Donald Westlake reference.  (Highlighting by me, not by Ms. Grafton!)  To be sure, I had dimly heard of Westlake, but had so far never ventured into his crime novels.  Once done with the Grafton (which was grand, as usual), I decided to do a bit of research on Donald Westlake’s writings.  As often, I went to a Wikipedia article.  The general Westlake entry gave just as much information as I wanted … without any of those terrible “spoilers” which would blithely give away the plot:


I have hightlighted the reference to Westlake’s God Save the Mark.  I decided on this one, both because it garnered that Edgar award, and because it’s a relatively early work.  When possible, I like to go through a writer in (more or less) chronological order.  In case there are any recurring characters or themes in an author’s work, this obviously will help avoid confusion.


Upon starting God Save the Mark, I confess that I was a bit put off by the rather comic tone.  However, I managed to override my perhaps stuffy attitude — being buoyed perhaps by Kinsey Millhone’s interest in Westlake’s output.  (Millhone is, for you benighted non-detective readers, Sue Grafton’s female private eye.)  I am glad that I stayed with the Westlake work!  Beneath its jokey exterior can be found the sturdy framework of a well-plotted crime novel.  I am looking forward to reading more of his books down the road.  And who knows … perhaps there too will be lurking a literary worm-hole, which will shoot me into yet another reading universe.

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