Say goodbye to the online source…

Don’t panic – that’s just a play on words! ;)

On Twitter, someone was complaining that @factable is claiming, correctly as it happens, that “Goodbye” came from “God bye” which, in turn, came from “God be with you.” Without quoting a source.

The interim form, of course, is probably unlikely to have been spoken as it’s written above, which is most likely a rendering  of an elided spoken version of the original four words, perhaps “God be wi’ ye” (ye being a written form of “thee” incidentally, and most certainly not pronounced “yee” as is commonly and wrongly assumed), “God be wi’ ye” being committed to the written record as “God bye” – I can see that happening, since it wasn’t entirely unknown for entire words to be truncated into single letters, for the writer’s convenience, only for that knowledge to be lost to future readers. It pretty much has to be a written contraction of a verbal elision. Likewise, I suspect, is “Goodbye”.

The Oxford Dictionary of English, however, takes a different view, that in the 16th century good was substituted for God to bring it into line with good morning.

That might well be so, but it strikes me as too simple and too slick, and I still feel that to get from God be with you to Goodbye, an interim elision is needed, like God bye, arrived at as above, in which God could be easily replaced with Good relatively smoothly. Works for me.

But let’s get back to the original complaint – the lack of a source. Being brought up on books, I find it utterly bewildering that there is a mindset that says that if there is no link to an online source, the provenance of something is automatically called into question. Which is arrant nonsense. And anyway, it could be argued that something which has been known for generations and can be considered common knowledge doesn’t need a link (I’ve known it since I was about 13, so it’s hardly a secret).

There are three things to know about the Internet – 1, it is vast source of utterly sound, reliable, and well-documented knowledge; 2, it is a vast source of the most utterly unreliable and egregious garbage known to man; and 3, not everyone knows the difference. And there’s something else too – not everything is on the Internet, or even can be. Just thought I’d mention that before some bugger deifies Google!

When it comes to the evolution of language, there is frequently no single source, just the written record, often spanning centuries, often patchy, with huge gaps, through which generations of scholars have trawled, looking for the changes that gave us the language we have today (speech, of course, could not survive, all we have is the written version of speech, which is not at all the same thing – the version of Elizabethan English you hear in Shakespeare is nothing but an approximation – archaic language with a modern pronunciation which is certainly wrong).

There is thus no unique point in time at which God be with you suddenly and completely became Goodbye, thus no source, as it’s currently understood, at which the Great God Google can be pointed.

And since that forces people – unless they just bitch about it and forget it – to think for themselves about how something might – or might not – happen, to consider how language evolves, as I’ve just done, that can only be a good thing.

I have no proof that it happened the way I say it could have – but it is a logical progression based on the known ways in which language evolves.

And doubtless, even in a country as small as this, it did happen that way somewhere. In an era long before mass transportation and instantaneous communication, the English language evolved locally in many different ways and at different rates, and was often mutually incomprehensible to people only 50 miles apart (and if you doubt that can happen even now, talk to a Glaswegian), and if something could happen in that evolution, it probably did. And then as now, if it happened in London it would probably take root.

Sorry, no, there’s no source for that either – live with it. Or research it –  something I’ve spent a sizeable part of my life doing, since long before the Internet was even a wet dream. Who knows, you might even get to enjoy using that spongy bit between your ears, because the bad news about the Internet or, rather, in this case, the World Wide Web, is that for  many people it is destroying the capacity for analytical thought.

One final thought – just because a statement can be traced back to a source on Google is still no guarantee of its veracity, and it’s a good idea to check multiple sources to make sure they all agree (and make sure you’re not checking repeated versions of the same source!). Nothing is infallible, not even Google.

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