The origin of “so long”

Kristor writes:

More word trivia. I learned a couple months ago where we got “so long.” It’s a corruption of “salaam,” picked up by the British Navy in Indonesia. Shalom. Cool, no?

LA replies:

How about that.

LA continues:

By the way, I wouldn’t have thought of “so long” as a British expression. To me, it’s very American sounding, even of the American West, not English sounding.

LA continues:

and it’s such a beautiful expression. So long. Meaning, “a long time until we see each other again.” Actually, its the equivalent of “farewell,” meaning, “we won’t see each other again.” But it’s more casual and easy going than “farewell.”

Kristor replies:

Yes, both so long and farewell are sad, wistful. My Czech father-in-law, who is in love with English, says goodbye to us by saying, “so short.” Meaning, “let it be a short time until we see each other again.”

Kristor replies:

Well, it is true that one must always take these etymologies of slang expressions with a grain of salt. But I am never surprised anymore to find out that a slang expression originated with limeys. One of my most prized books is Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, and a wholly unsystematic sampling of its vast and deeply engrossing depths has convinced me that fully 60 percent of all slang originated with British seamen.

By the way, if you are ever looking for an entertaining game to play when sitting around the living room with a bunch of friends, I can heartily recommend passing Partridge around. Each player opens the book at random, points at the page, and reads the etymology of the term thus selected. Hilarious, fascinating, droll discoveries ensue. E.g.: I will never again use the expression, “lip service,” and whenever I hear a politician using it, I get a smile out of its appropriateness to the speaker.

I didn’t learn about salaam from Partridge’s, however. So I just checked him. He agrees with the etymology, but does not mention the British Navy. Maybe it was American seamen who brought it back to Salem, Mass.

Salem. Didn’t even think of that when I typed the word, but Salem is shalom, too.

LA replies:

But Salem is a city referred to in Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek, king of Salem.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 03, 2010 02:41 PM | Send

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