So long in use

When ‘so long’ doesn’t mean ‘so long’

I don’t remember when I first heard this expression ‘so long’ and what I thought about it (probably that it was about something that is really long).

But I remember very well when I decided to look it up in a dictionary.

It was because of James Blunt’s song So long Jimmy. And I remember that I was intrigued: who’s Jimmy and what did take him to do for so long?

I listened to the song and of course, I didn’t get the meaning of it back then.

I mean, I liked the music and kinda figured it out that it was about Jimmy Hedrix but I had no idea what did ‘so long Jimmy’ meant.
That made no sense.

Actually, it didn’t make sense for most Americans when their great poet Walt Whitman used it in his poetry in 1861. Even his friends were puzzled. One of them asked Whitman what ‘so long’ meant.

Whitman described it as ‘a salutation of departure, greatly used among sailors, sports and prostitutes’. The sense of the expression is “till we meet again” somewhere, somehow, sooner or later.

Anyways by the 20th century ‘so long’ became a common expression of farewell.

This meaning actually resonates with Blunt’s song which was mainly about legendary rock-star Jimmy Hendrix but also about Blunt’s friend and musician Jimmy Hogarth.

“It was the last song before I went to Los Angeles, so I was saying, “So long, Jimmy”, it was really for him and the partnership before I made my album” – told Blunt in the interview in 2005.

Should we use ‘so long’ in a daily speech?

I encountered ‘so long’ in some American TV Series mostly about the past, not modern, days. According to Collins dictionary, nowadays it’s quite a common expression.

You can find this expression even in Urban Dictionary which describes it as ‘a goodbye’ commonly used by cowboys.

Should we use it in daily speech? I doubt it. But it’s good to know for watching a movie or listening to music.

Okay, that’s it. Now tell me if you’ve heard this expression before and what was your first guess about its meaning?
By now, so long, guys. See you later!

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10 thoughts on “When ‘so long’ doesn’t mean ‘so long’

  1. Hi Vika, Thanks for this expression and also the song, every time I see it I have the impression that it goes something like: it’s a long time since I saw you last time….but I find interesting say goodbye from time to time like a cowboy, So long. Karina

  2. Hi, Vika! I heard this expression for the first time at school in a textbook. Our teacher explained that it’s an informal way to say “goodbye”. I haven’t been hearing it since my childhood.

    1. Hey Vladimir, thank you for sharing) You’re the lucky one! I don’t think I knew this expression in my high school years))

      1. If you are curious enough to want to hear the phrase in use simply watch an episode of the 1950s/60s sitcom, “Leave it to Beaver”. It’s used as the primary form of farewell between the children (and sometimes by the adults, but usually when speaking to the children). I can not vouch for this but I believe it occured most rampantly during the 50s episodes rather than the later ones. It may very well substantiate that it’s claim to fame was via cowboy western films so popular amongst boys of that era.

          1. Well, I appreciate you and your work. Another good reference is the Rodgers & Hammerstein song used in the 1965 film “The Sound of Music”. It’s significant for the very fact that it is used as one in a series of phrases, in multiple languages, to mean goodbye. The title is “So Long, Farewell” (Auf wiedersehen, goodbye. Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you). The full song/clip is available on YouTube.

          2. Thank you for sharing, Abouja. I appreciate you and you input too.

    1. Hey Jason, great question! ‘So long’ is an old-fashion way to say goodbye to someone or to something and it doesn’t have negative connotation. But let’s say two people are arguing and then one of them decides to leave and say ‘so long’. In this case, this ‘so long’ has negative connotation. But the word itself is not rude. Let me know if my explanation was helpful)

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