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How “goodbye” and “adiós” are actually short prayers


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Daniel Esparza - published on 02/20/24

The next time you say goodbye, consider the original religious weight of what you are saying. You are indeed blessing the person who is leaving.

Saying goodbye is a human trait – even a need. In all cultures and languages, parting words carry the paradoxical weight of both connection and separation. We say goodbye to those we love, to those we don’t want to be far from.

Uncovering the etymological meanings and origins of some of our ways of wishing someone well when they are away offers a revealing glimpse into how these seemingly simple expressions carry cultural and religious weight.

“Bye” — considered a casual shortened form of goodbye — has a deeper history tied to religious sentiment. Its roots can be traced back to the 14th-century English phrase “God be with you,” a heartfelt wish for divine protection as someone leaves. Scholars claim that the word goodbye made its debut in 1573, when the English writer Gabriel Harvey used it in a rather playful letter, writing,

“To requite your gallon of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes.”

This “godbwye” was actually a shortened form of the phrase “God be with ye,” a common farewell. Over time, “good” replaced “God,” most likely due to its presence in greetings like “good day” and “good evening.”

This origin resonates with similar farewells throughout Europe, such as the French “adieu,” the Spanish “adiós,” and the Italian “addio,” all of which derive from Latin phrases meaning “to God (a Dios), I commend you.”

These linguistic connections underscore the common influence of a shared religious culture – Christianity.

Parting words

To be sure, the linguistic landscape of farewells extends beyond religiously charged phrases.

German, for example, offers alternatives such as “auf Wiedersehen,” meaning “until we see each other again,” as well as the Italian “arrivederci,” the French “au revoir,” or the Catalan “a reveure,” all of which mean the same thing. These phrases emphasize the hope of future reunion rather than divine protection.

The Japanese “sayonara” comes from “sayō naraba,” which translates as “if it must be so,” as if acknowledging the sad inevitability of parting.

Some linguists claim that the Spanish “adiós” is derived from common Arabic expressions wishing someone a safe return. Despite the phonetic differences between common Arabic farewells and the Spanish adiós, the meanings are in fact the same. In Arabic, one says fī amān Allāh, which means “in God’s protection.” Likely adopted by the Spanish, the expression retained its wish for the departing individual’s well-being, with the same explicit religious implications, only in a different language. This is consistent with the greater influence of Arabic on the Iberian Peninsula, especially during the Islamic period.

Contractions of longer prayers

Interestingly, both “bye” and “adiós” are contractions of longer, more formal, elaborate, devotional farewells. In Spanish, “adiós” comes from expressions such as “A Dios seas” (“May you be with God”) and “Te encomiendo a Dios” (“I commend you to God”), mirroring the evolution of “bye” from “God be with you” in English. These historical parallels underscore the common human desire to offer good wishes and divine protection when saying goodbye.

Ultimately, exploring the diverse expressions of farewell serves as a reminder of the history that is inadvertently woven into our everyday language. “Bye” and “adiós,” once rooted in religious sentiment, have become versatile expressions used across cultures and generations. The next time you say goodbye, consider the original religious weight of what you are saying. You are indeed blessing the person who is leaving.

Catholic historyCatholic LifestyleCulture
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