There are words in the chorus of the "Preacher and the Slave" song by Joe Hill:

You will eat, by and by,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die

What does "by and by" mean?

4 Answers 4


My dictionary says:

By and by - before long; eventually.

Strangely there was nothing on the OALD.

  • 3
    +1; Similar phrases are "sooner or later" and "one of these days".
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 15:59
  • +1; Thanks for the contribution. :D The more, the better!
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 15:59

Some (indeterminate) time in the future.


By and by is an idiom which means:

after a short period

  • By and by a man appeared.

  • You'll get used to it by and by.

(Cambridge Dictionary)


The Grammarist has an interesting article on the usage and origin of the expressions “by and by” and “by the by”:

By and by is usually an adverbial phrase meaning

  • (1) after a while, or (2) soon—for example, “I can’t come now, but if you wait a little while, I will be there by and by.”

But it also works as a noun meaning the future, for example:

  • “I will see you in the by-and-by.” In the noun sense, the phrase is often hyphenated for clarity.


By the by means incidentally, by the way, or beside the point.


By and by is the older of the two. Its original sense was one by one. Chaucer, for one, used it in this sense in the late 14th century. It developed its modern senses by the 16th century and appeared in Shakespeare, the King James Bible, and many other well-known texts of that era. By the by is a couple of centuries newer. Originally upon the by or on the by, it took its modern form by the 18th century and was fairly common by the 19th century.

Both phrases have declined since their peaks in the 19th century. To modern English speakers, they tend to have an old-fashioned tone, and by and by in particular has a biblical ring because of its use in English translations of the Bible and in Christian hymns.

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