What's the origin of this strange substitute for farewell? We say it all the time, but I can't figure out its meaning.

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    Good question! Unfortunately I don't think there's a definitive answer. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '13 at 12:02
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    There is a discussion here: etymonline.com/… – bib Jul 14 '13 at 15:11

There is a Gaelic (Irish) word for goodbye, it is pronounced, roughly, 'slahng.' I expect it would have been very easy to have been brought into American use during the wave of Irish immigration in the 1800's, and for Americans to misinterpret it as the two English words, 'so long.'

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage @kate. Answers are nearly always better when they contain a link or two to sources or authorities. Can you add anything in support? I think it would help others if you mention the Gaelic word, rather than just it's pronunciation. Nice to see you here. – andy256 Feb 1 '15 at 21:42

"Slán" is the most common way to say goodbye in Irish. I always thought "So long" comes from it. Here's how it's pronounced in each of the three dialects of Irish:

Irish:http://www.teanglann.ie/ga/fuaim/Slán

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    Welcome to English.SE. Interesting theory, do you have any references to back it up? – Azor Ahai Sep 25 '16 at 23:16
  • Note also that this theory was previously suggested by kate, more than a year and a half ago. – choster Sep 26 '16 at 16:32

It's probably one of the general category of 'expectant' goodbyes that mean something like 'good wishes until we next see each other' - i.e. 'For so long (i.e. however long) it takes until we meet again'. Compare German so lange or bis bald or French au revoir.

  • But au revoir refers to seeing again which has an explicit logical connection to a goodbye. – bib Jul 14 '13 at 15:07
  • @bib I don't understand your objection to au revoir. So long is also connected to goodbye as is until we see each other again But they are all a form of temporary salutation. – Mari-Lou A Jul 15 '13 at 2:47
  • I don't object to au revoir. I just think its association with a departure is clear, where so long is not and requires assumptions about missing words. – bib Jul 15 '13 at 3:42
  • Several other Germanic languages use cognate wordings to mean almost the same thing (så længe in Danish being the one closest to me). In Scandinavian languages at least, it is only used together with the actual ‘goodbye’ word (hej, i.e., “Hej så længe”), which has dropped out in English. The actual meaning of så længe in this sense can be gleaned from other contexts to be ‘in the meantime’ or ‘all the while’. When taking one’s leave, the understood context is exactly what Alex wrote: ‘in the meantime, till I see you again’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 15 '13 at 21:18

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