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What is the origin of the word “goodbye”?

These are probably the most used two words in our day-to-day conversations. We normally use superlative degrees all the time to emphasize something strongly.

That being the case why we don't use "better night" or "best night"?

How did "good night" become such an integral part of our usage when we had other options?

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    Good morning, good day, good afternoon, good evening, bon matin, bonjour, bonsoir, bon nuit, buenos dias, buenas tardes, buenas noches, guten Morgen, guten Tag, guten Abend, gute Nacht. Do we need an explanation for this? Nov 20, 2011 at 13:19

2 Answers 2


As @Peter Shor mentions, the pattern that is present in all languages seem to prefer the positive over comparative and superlative. Trying to explain why this is could be intereseting because it seems so evident. On my part I can only offer speculation:

Wiktionary list "good evening" as ellipsis of a phrase such as

I wish you a good evening.

This seems obviously true and nothing new. Now, using comparative would be confusing here since "I wish you a better evening" would imply that it might have not been the best evening so far. Actually, we tend to use comparative in situations when we want to console someone e.g. "I wish that things will be better."

Superlative would work, there is nothing confusing in the wish

I wish you the best evening.

and it is a very nice thing to say when you actually have a reson to do so. However, using this phrase everytime would eventually be insincere as you need a way to say goodbye even on the nights that are not so great or you might want to be civil with your enemies, too.

So, the choice of good seems really the only way, and really what is wrong with wishing that something would be good? I think it hits the spot perfectly, leaving the possibility that it might turn into better and best.

EDIT If you go by etymology, then

good-bye also goodbye, good bye, good-by, 1590s, from godbwye (1570s), itself a contraction of God be with ye (late 14c.), influenced by good day, good evening, etc.

might seem like another possible explanation of "good", but the mention that good bye is influenced by good day and good evening immplies that these were already established, which the entry for good day confirms

good day salutation, late 14c., short for have a good day (c.1200). Good morning is c.1400, gode morwene. Good night, also goodnight, is late 14c.; as an exclamation of surprise, from 1893.

  • Interesting. "Good day" means "Have a good day." But there are those who, while saying "good day" frequently themselves, become annoyed when someone says to them "Have a nice day".
    – GEdgar
    Nov 20, 2011 at 14:40
  • @GEdgar: In my experience, at least, 'good day' now means 'goodbye', sometimes with a flavour of ' ...and good riddance.' Could not your those be those who use it thus? Nov 20, 2011 at 14:46
  • 'G'day' is Strine. Nov 20, 2011 at 15:26

To say 'better night' would imply that previous nights had been lesss good. To say' best night' would imply that subsequent nights would be less good. 'Good night' is old, being first found in Chaucer's 'Troilus and Criseyde' as:

Haue now good nyȝt & lat vs boþe slepe.

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    @Unreason: Thanks. Short, I find, is more likely to be read, whether it's nice or not. Nov 20, 2011 at 14:00

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