by and by » bye and bye

Classification: English – nearly mainstream – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • “Children it’s bye, bye, better bye and bye / We will understand it better bye and bye.” (link)
  • “You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” (link)
  • “I said bye and bye I’m going to see the King Bye and bye I am going to see the King … Bye and bye I will hear the angel sing And I don’t mind dying, …” (link)
  • “The Chippendales would get their money bye and bye, he replied. “Bye and bye!” she shrieked like a jackdaw. “We’ll need a joint of beef a damn sight sooner…” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Jim Heckman (sci.lang posting of 4 August 2005)

“Bye” occurs occasionally as a variant spelling of “by”, including in the idiom “by and by” ‘in a while’ (for which the OED has cites from 1330, in the modern sense from 1526; the OED has no separate entry for “bye and bye”). But, especially in hymns and folk songs, the expression “bye-bye” (from “good-bye”, from “god be with you”, with no involvement of “by” at all) seems to have been imported into the spelling of “by and by”, no doubt because it contributes its sense of saying farewell (to this bad world). This is pretty clearly the case in my first cite.

The spelling “bye and bye” is frequent: 45,700 raw Google webhits, as against 642,000 for “by and by”. These counts are inflated by many repeated appearances of lines from songs — but both counts are inflated, and by many of the same songs.

In a further interesting twist, people occasionally declare that “by(e) and by(e)” means ‘in the past’. This might be a consequence of the janus-faced nature of “bye-bye”, which looks both into the past and towards the future.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/08/05 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Andrew Taylor , 2006/09/07 at 12:47 pm

    Another confusing one is what I spell as “by the bye” - a slightly old-fashioned version of “by the way”. Apparently I’m in the minority: Google gives

    By the by - 710k hits
    By the bye - 240k hits
    Bye the bye - 26k hits
    Bye the by - 365 hits (no k!)

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