All communities and nationalities have customs for when they part. More universal than gift-giving is the practice of uttering a parting word or phrase. If you were to pause and reflect you’d realise that whether the visit or meeting went well or not, you wish the person only well on departure since you don’t know when you’ll see him or her next.
As a natural consequence of those sentiments, the phrase itself would make reference to peace, goodwill and God’s protection. Take ‘Bye!’ for instance – such a ubiquitous word heard every day in speech and seen everywhere in writing. Of course you already know that it’s an abbreviated form of ‘Goodbye’, but you may not know that ‘Goodbye’ in turn is a short version of ‘God be with ye’.
Some languages have a common phrase for both hello and goodbye, such as ‘Aloha!’ in Hawaii; usually the loose or generic translation is simply ‘Greetings!’ ‘Marhaba!’ in Arabic is another example (one etymological source analyses it to mean ‘God love’ from ‘Mar’ and ‘haba’). And ‘Peace’, as in ‘salaam’, remains the emphasis in formal greeting, though it figures prominently in both the hello part (‘As salaam alaikum’) and the goodbye bit (‘Ma’as salama’).
Those of the younger set who like to sound cool are fond of uttering foreign phrases in greeting. A huge favourite is ‘ciao’, which serves as both hello and goodbye, while reserving ‘arrivederci’ for older folk or more formal situations. Or so you might think. However, Italy expert Jessica Spiegel, writing on the website Italylogue.com, clarifies ciao’s etymology on a cautionary note. She says it has its roots in the Venetian dialect, where the phrase ‘s-ciào vostro’ meant ‘I am your slave’! While it wasn’t taken literally among the Venetians who used it with one another (it simply meant ‘if you need anything, let me know’), it’s a word (she says) that’s used among close friends or peer groups and therefore best left to the Italians.
So, on that note, dear reader, so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu, sayonara and the rest of it. This is Dr Chandrashekhar’s last column for us. Watch out for our new-look page in the revamped Friday next week – Karen