Women at funeral after learning why people say "godspeed."

4 minute read

Godspeed Meaning - Why Do People Say “Godspeed”?

What is the meaning of "godspeed" and why do people say it when someone passes away? Learn the "godspeed" meaning and history here.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Have you ever heard someone use the phrase “Godspeed” in relation to someone passing away? Have you wondered why they say that? As a society, we often use idioms that are intended to perfectly capture a moment or an implied sentiment behind that moment. However, as time goes by, the original meaning or true intention behind that phrase can sometimes get lost. Keep reading to find out the “godspeed” meaning and its historical significance. 

What is the meaning of “Godspeed”?

According to Oxford Languages, “Godspeed” is an exclamation meaning “an expression of good wishes to a person starting a journey.” Common synonyms include “adieu,” “adios,” “bon voyage,” and “farewell.”

What is the origin of “Godspeed”?

The word “Godspeed” has the prefix “God” and suffix “speed.” Does the word have something to do with a certain Heavenly Father and their ability to hurry? 

The term Godspeed originates from Middle English. The oldest detected use of the phrase was found in the 1300s text, Lancelot of the Laik and Sir Tristrem. The excerpt reads, “He may bidde god me spede,” which the University of Rochester translates into “ask God to grant me success.”

The 1385 Canterbury Tales also includes the line “God spede yow go forth and ley on faste.” 

What scholars can seem to agree upon is the more common usage of the term in the form we know it in the 14th and 15th centuries, in the forms of “God spede,” “God spied,” and “God speed.” Speed is used in the context of its origin meaning to prosper, grow rich, or succeed. There appears to be some debate surrounding the meaning of the suffix “God.” Some believe it refers to the spiritual deity often referred to as the supreme being, while others point out that the terms God and good were spelled identically at the time. 

What does Godspeed really mean? 

Admittedly, the etymology of Godspeed doesn’t provide much clarity on what it really means today. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s a phrase used to wish someone success when they are parting or departing on a journey. 

Godspeed meaning & death - what’s the connection?

Common dictionary definitions do not connect the meaning of Godspeed with death. However, you will hear people using the phrase when someone passes away. So, what’s the connection? Here’s the explanation below.

What does Godspeed mean in death?

When you attend a funeral or celebration of life, you may hear someone say “Godspeed.” So far, we’ve discovered that the modern meaning of the phrase essentially means to wish someone well, or “bon voyage,” a safe journey. What does this have to do with death?

Many cultures and spiritual entities believe that death is a journey. It may be an unknown journey, but it could possibly represent a journey to some type of afterlife, such as the pathway to pearly gates or even higher levels of consciousness. Depending on your culture, religion, or spiritual beliefs, you may even view death as the starting point of a new journey.

When someone says “Godspeed” in regards to someone who passed away, really what they mean is they wish that person well and a safe journey or transition to this afterlife. You might even argue that it helps us avoid having to say “goodbye,” which may feel too definite or permanent. 

Is it okay to say Godspeed when someone dies?

The appropriate use of the term “Godspeed” in the context of death is debatable at best. It toes the line between being religious or generic. If used in a religious sense, it can be interpreted as a reminder of the omnipresence of God. When used in a more generic sense, it can be taken as simple well wishes for a deceased person’s journey into the unknown. 

After a person passes away, there is usually an opportunity offered to say goodbye. This could be in the form of a funeral viewing with an open casket, or a viewing of the urn with cremains. When approaching the casket or urn to say farewell, it can certainly be appropriate to say “Godspeed” if it captures your sentiment. 

However, note that it is not appropriate to say “Godspeed” to anyone other than the deceased, such as their grieving family members. 

Have you ever tried to use a popular slang term, only to find that it falls flat on your audience? It’s likely because you didn’t fully understand its nuances and therefore didn’t use it in the correct context, even if you came close. 

Using idioms that you don’t fully understand or feel comfortable with can have the same effect. Further, using such a phrase in relation to death can be a gamble. 

At the end of the day, only use the phrase if it makes sense and feels good for you to use. 

Last but not least, consider the deceased person’s personal or religious beliefs, as well as those of their close family members. Respecting their beliefs is important, so you may want to avoid using the phrase in general if you feel unsure of its appropriate use.

Is Godspeed a goodbye?

Yes, the phrase Godspeed has been used as a way to say goodbye, stemming from the 14th or 15th century. It is used when you want to express well wishes to someone who is about to embark on a journey. 

It is also sometimes used in a joking or mocking way to make light of a situation that is not serious or dangerous in nature. 

I’m going to go ask her on a date.”


What should I say when someone dies?

It can be difficult to find the right words to say when someone passes away. Any empathetic person would want to offer comforting words to someone who is grieving. Because we can’t possibly fully understand their experience, however, we might wind up feeling tongue-tied.

As a result, you may find yourself reaching to borrow idioms and phrases that have been used before by others. However, it’s always best to come up with your own words so that they come across truly authentic. 

If you’re not someone who would authentically say “Godspeed” otherwise, then you might even unintentionally put off the person you’re attempting to comfort. That’s why it’s so important to understand the “Godspeed” meaning, or any other unfamiliar idiom, before you decide to incorporate it into your own vernacular.

Want other or better suggestions on what to say when someone passes away? Be sure to read “Comforting Words to Say When Someone Dies.” This guide acknowledges the different shades of grief experienced by an individual based on the relationship they had with the person who passed away, as well as suggestions on what you might say to comfort them. It also provides tips on what NOT to say in this delicate matter. 

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative!

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