The Holy Reason We Say “Goodbye” And What To Say Instead

goodbye with waving hand

“So long, farewell …” This catchy tune from The Sound of Music is just one of many artistic reflections throughout the years on the ways we say goodbye. And it’s no wonder this parting word and its synonyms have been the subject of much rumination over the years as saying goodbye has become an integral part of our interactions with people, places, and things. 

We say goodbye for a myriad of reasons and in a variety of ways. Some goodbyes are heartfelt and full of emotion, such as when we say goodbye to a dying loved one. Others, such as those we say when we end a call or run out to get groceries, are perfunctory. Then, there are those that are snarky, funny, soul-cleansing, gutting, liberating, and oh so much more. Fortunately, there are plenty of words to choose from when it’s time to part. 

But first, have you ever really thought about why we started saying goodbye in the first place? 

Why do we say goodbye?

The practice of saying goodbye goes back centuries, with first evidence of the interjection found around 1565–75. It’s a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye.”

In those days, people didn’t have the means of communication we do today, and they often didn’t know when or if they would see that person again when they parted. So they issued a sincere send-off, asking God to be with them until they met again. 

Over the years, the use of goodbye has become more cursory in many cases, and few people are likely invoking the help of God when they say it. We’ve also added countless other parting words to our language that people use instead. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Other ways to say goodbye


Significantly softer and a bit more infantile is bye-bye. In fact, it was originally used in nurseries to help lull children to sleep. First evidence of the term can be found around 1700–10. In 2000, NSYNC added an extra bye for their hit song Bye Bye Bye. A modern and sometimes flippant or dismissive twist on bye-bye is buh-bye


Borrowed from Spanish, adios is another way to say goodbye to our friends and family—even if it’s the only Spanish word some of us know. First evidence of the word appeared around 1830–40. In Spanish, the word means “to God.” On a similar note (especially if you like the Zac Brown Band) is vaya con dios. This Spanish phrase translates to “go with God.” 


If you want to get fancy, you may want to use farewell. It means not only goodbye, but that you hope they fare (“to go, travel, experience”) well. First evidence of the word dates back to 1325–75. It stems from the middle English word farwel. 

see you later

When you’re parting with someone you plan to see again in the near future, you might say “see you later.” (“Alligator” is optional.) The phrase is also sometimes shortened simply to later or, if you’re young and hip (or trying to be) laters. If you’re texting, you might use CYA or C YA. Just don’t say “see you next Tuesday,” unless you’re actually planning to meet with them next Tuesday … or you want to insult them. 


A versatile interjection, ciao can be used to say hello or goodbye. We borrow it from the Italian language. Ciao bella is a colloquial way to address a female friend (or a flirtatious way to greet a single woman). 


The word adieu is brought to us by the French language, where it’s equivalent to the words a (from the Latin word ad meaning “to”) and dieu (from the Latin word deus meaning “god”). It’s a formal way of saying goodbye: “I bid you adieu.” Or, as they sang in The Sound of Music, “Adieu, adieu to you and you and you …”

so long

Evidence of this Americanism dates back to 1840–1850, but there’s not much evidence as to why we use so long as a substitute for goodbye. It could be because it implies that we’ll see someone after a long time, but that’s not usually what we mean, so this one is a bit perplexing. It’s possible it may have evolved from a German idiom related to their parting phrase adieu so lange (“farewell, whilst we’re apart”).


More than a little circle of grain in your cereal bowl, cheerio is an interjection that means “goodbye and good luck.” First evidence of it can be found around 1905–10, stemming from the British word cheero. It also appears to be related to cheeras in bringing someone good cheer. (Go ahead and hum the “Carol of the Bells” right now if you need to: “Christmas is here, bringing good cheer.”)


Another one to borrow from the British, ta-ta can also be a cheery little send-off. First evidence of the phrase appears around 1830–40. Ta-ta is an informal way of saying “goodbye,” especially in British English. TTFN, standing for ta-ta for now, was popularized during World War II by the radio comedy program It’s That Man Again. TTFN spread outside of its native England thanks to an overly friendly stuffed tiger. In Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day—a 1968 Disney animated film based on the book Winnie-the-Pooh by the English author A. A. Milne—the character Tigger uses TTFN to say goodbye.


New to the goodbye game are also a slew of acronyms, shortcuts, and creative takes on traditional send-offs that fly off the fingers of texters. TTYL means talk to you later, while BRB is a shortened version of “Be Right Back.” While primarily used in digital communications, they’ve also creeped their way into our spoken language as initialisms, and we’re not likely to bid them adieu anytime soon. They’ve even made their way into music, such as in Luh Kel’s song BRB

WATCH: What Is The Difference Between Abbreviations And Acronyms?

While it may be so hard to say goodbye to yesterday (cue Boyz II Men) or your loved ones for emotional reasons, it’s certainly not for lack of words. As you can see, goodbye and bye may be the standards, but there are plenty of words to choose from if you want to spice up your sendoffs. Just don’t take a note from Sam Smith and get Too Good at Goodbyes


We say goodbye to one thing only to say hello to another. Where did hello come from, anyway? Let’s find out!

Keep Learning New Words Every Day!

Get the Word of The Day delivered straight to your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Previous Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: What's The Difference? Next The Origin Of The Phrase “Thirty Days Hath September”