Friday, 12 October 2012

Goodbye, Adios, Adieu



Now to my word;
It is 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.'
I have sworn 't.

Says Hamlet in a phrase that sounds terribly significant but doesn't actually go anywhere. Mind you, I've always had a private theory that the lines:


O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

Might be adieu and not a dew. But all this is beside my etymological point. Adieu is a contraction of the old French parting A dieu vous commmant, which means I commend you to God. It's a kind sentiment, but French people weren't very kind and couldn't be bothered to say the whole thing. Spaniards were similarly lazy and A dios vos acomiendo became simply Adios.

But English people are the unkindest and laziest of all. Once upon a time we used to say God be with you. By about 1590 when Shakespeare wrote Love's Labour's Lost we had dropped the th in with, so Costard says

I thanke your worship, God be wy you.

By the time he had got round to writing Othello in the first decade of the seventeenth century, it was printed as God b'uy, I ha done - although my Arden Edition expands this to a full God be with you to make up the iambic pentameter.

These days we just say Goodbye, or even just bye.

12 comments:

  1. Well done, this is a good post. I have also thought a lot about these words and when I was in France recently I asked my host's teenagers if they ever use adieu. They looked shocked and said mais non. I persisted and asked if it would be suitable for dumping a boyfriend. They laughed but assured me it would still not be appropriate.

    Modern useage has a lot to answer for. Au revoir for now and seeya later alligator!

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  2. Another farewell word, common to the UK, is ta-ra / t'ra. Always wondered where that came from (or indeed where it's off to).

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  3. I'd always thought that the 'cheery Cockerney' greeting 'wotcher' was a contraction of 'God watch you' (we'd hope more of a well-meaning wish than a threat). But apparently it comes from 'What cheer?' Which, I suppose, explains why it is a salutation rather than a valediction.

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  4. I was completely unable to appreciate this post because I was worried it was announcing the shocking end to one of my favorite blogs.

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    1. Me too, Ben Y. Say it isn't so!

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  5. Replies
    1. The speediest of reassurances ...I love good news.

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  6. Just recieved my copy of The Horologicon from a friend that works at my local Waterstones.

    Like the cover!

    Laurie -

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  7. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

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  8. Our Italian "addio" was obviously originated the same way as its French and Spanish analogues.

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  9. You said, "But English people are the unkindest and laziest of all. Once upon a time we used to say God be with you. By about 1590 when Shakespeare wrote Love's Labour's Lost we had dropped the th in with, so Costard says
    I thanke your worship, God be wy you."

    From my reading of 17th century manuscripts I frequently see 'th' abbreviated to a 'y' (as in 'ye olde shoppe'). The 'th' was definetely pronounced, it was just a written shorthand.

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  10. Indeed - the 'Y' character is called 'thorn' and is pronounced 'th', so when you see e.g. pub names such 'Ye Olde Coach House' that first word is pronounced 'the'.

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