Exotic Goodbyes Heard ‘Round the World

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Ciao, Italy

Ciao is an informal Italian salutation with a shocking history. Venetian in origin, it’s derived from a phrase that literally means, “I am your slave,” but in a friendly, “at your service” kind of way.

Over time, that meaning was lost, in favor of the more informal farewell used today.

Au revoir, France

You may be familiar with both adieu and au revoir in French, but do you know the difference?

Adieu means, literally, “to God” (dieu is "god"), and it is used as a more formal or permanent goodbye. Other common phrases are a bientot (“see you soon”), a demain (“see you tomorrow”), and salut, an informal “bye-bye” that can also be a greeting.

Shalom, Hebrew

Word nerds might appreciate the many sentiments carried by Hebrew’s simple shalom. Whether used as a goodbye or as a greeting, the word means "peace, well-being, wholeness, harmony, prosperity, and tranquility." Can you think of any English word imbued with such positive vibes?

Note: Since shalom is also a word that references God in its deepest sense, it should not be used in bathhouses or restrooms. Now you know.

Sayonara, Japan

Interestingly, the Japanese word sayonara carries some of the formality and finality that adieu also conveys. Yet, it has become an informal, lighthearted, and even humorous way of dismissing something, or saying goodbye, in the common vernacular of other countries (specifically the US).

The literal translation of the word is “if it is to be that way,” and it is used in Japan with some solemnity, as if the parting is intended to be final or long-term.

Auf wiedersehen, Germany

Fans of the television show Project Runway have no doubt heard host Heidi Klum utter "auf wiedersehen" to contestants, right after she rather gruffly says, “you’re out!”

It’s a standard, slightly formal send-off, and in Germany, it’s not really used between good friends or family. And, don’t tell the banished Project Runway contestants that auf wiedersehen translates to “until we meet again” . . . they might get their hopes up.

Maʿ al-salāmah, Arabic

As with shalom, the Arabic maʿ al-salāmah (pronounced “ma salama”) is a common farewell that carries more weight than most. It means, “with peace,” and the common reply is to either repeat the phrase back, or to say, “fī amān Allāh,” (pronounced “fee-aman-illah”), which means, “in God’s protection.”

A less formal goodbye is ila al-liqaa, which means “until we meet” (again).

Adios, Spain

Similar to the French adieu, the word adios means “to god” (dios being “God”). Similar to adieu, right? Adios carries a slightly more formal and permanent kind of weight, just like adieu too.

An even more formal send-off, perhaps to someone hitchhiking across country, or paddling the Rio Grande, would be vaya con dios, which means “go with God.” More friendly phrases include, hasta luego, meaning “see you later,” and borrowing from Italian, chao!

Slán, Ireland

A number of Gaelic farewells allude to safety, which is both kind of sweet and a little unnerving. The common slán means “safe,” and is a brief bye, while slán leat translates as “safety with you.”

By the way, some linguists believe the English so long is a corruption of slán.

Tot zien, Netherlands & Totsiens, South Africa

The Dutch tot zien (tot = "until," zien = "see") for goodbye or so long has morphed into the Afrikaans word, totsiens. Afrikaans—derived largely from Dutch—is one of 11 official languages on the African continent . . . but everyone understands totsiens.

Goodbye, Ye Olde English

The English version of goodbye was first recorded in the 1500s as godbwye, a contraction of “God be with you” in various forms: God be wy you, God b'uy, God buoye, etc.

Over time, (but by the 1600s) salutations such as good morning and good evening were responsible for the god (in godbwye) transforming into good.