What Does Godspeed Mean When Someone Dies?

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Life is a journey, and some believe that death is not necessarily the end of that journey. Depending on your spiritual faith, you may believe that death is the beginning of an entirely new journey.

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If you do believe that, then you may want to find the right words to say to someone as they transition from life to death.

You can actually send someone off on that journey with a single word: “godspeed.” Here, we’ll explore the history, meaning, and cultural significance of the word godspeed.

Meaning of Godspeed

Text about the meaning of Godspeed over an image of the sky and clouds

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, godspeed is a noun meaning “a prosperous journey.” Synonyms for godspeed include: adieu, au revoir, bon voyage, farewell, and goodbye.

Etymology

You might assume that the -speed suffix of godspeed has to do with quickness, but that is not the case.

The word originated from the Middle English phrase “God spede.” The “God” part of that phrase refers to deity. The “spede” part is the singular subjunctive form of the word “speden” which means “to prosper.” “Speden” is very similar to the Old English word “spēd”, which means “success.” 

There is some debate as to when godspeed — or at least a variation on it — was first used. The Oxford English Dictionary points to a text called Sir Tristrem from circa 1300 that used the phrase “He may bidde god me spede”.

Another early usage was in “The Knight’s Tale,” which was the first story in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. This work from 1385 contained the line “God spede yow go forth and ley on faste.”

However, most scholars agree that it wasn’t until the 1500s that the phrase began being used in the manner of its current meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary highlights this usage from the Tyndale Bible of 1526 as the first usage: “Yf ther come eny vnto you and bringe not this learninge him receave not to housse: neither bid him God spede.” Shakespeare also used the phrase in 1597’s Richard II: “A brace of draimen bid, God speed him wel.”

Is It OK to Say ‘Godspeed’ After Someone Dies?

Opinions vary on whether or not it's appropriate to use the word "godspeed" after someone's death. The general consensus is that it is acceptable, depending on whom you are addressing in the sentiment. 

After a person dies, their next of kin will sometimes hold a funeral viewing where the deceased's body is present. Typically, the deceased's body will be visible in an open casket after being embalmed. However, visitations can also take place after a cremation. In that case, the urn holding their cremains would typically be on display. 

At a funeral viewing, friends and family members can approach the casket or urn to see the deceased one last time. Mourners often take this moment to wish their loved ones farewell. "Godspeed" is an appropriate sentiment when addressed to the deceased. 

At funeral viewings and memorial services, you'll also have the opportunity to express your condolences to the deceased's closest family members. It would not be appropriate to say "godspeed" to them. 

The expression "godspeed" is commonly used when someone embarks on a new journey or adventure and is often synonymous with wishing someone good fortune. A recently bereaved person might find the sentiment puzzling or even hurtful. However, wishing "godspeed" to the deceased is wishing them well on whatever journey awaits them after death.

There is a caveat to this rule. If the deceased had a troubled relationship with religion, you should skip using this expression altogether. Even if the deceased can't hear you, respecting their beliefs is always important. 

How Else Is Godspeed Used?

There are many times in life when it is appropriate to wish someone godspeed. Again, since the word has some religious connotations, some people will not be receptive to it. But if you know the person you’re talking to has faith in God, then there are several occasions where this phrase will be beneficial. Here are some examples:

When someone goes on a trip

By definition, the word "godspeed" is used to wish people well as they embark on either a literal or metaphysical journey. It doesn't get much more literal than going on a trip. The solemnity of the phrase would be a little much for someone going on a weekend beach getaway. But for longer or more arduous journeys, it's more appropriate. Some examples of this may include someone going backpacking through Europe for several months or taking a cruise around the world. 

Wishing someone "godspeed" is especially fitting for someone going on a more altruistic journey. This might include joining the Peace Corps to work overseas for a few years or doing relief work after a natural disaster. 

When someone is embarking on a new venture

We all experience transitional periods in our lives. As one era ends and another begins, you may want to wish someone “godspeed.” Occasions like this may include:

  • Leaving for college
  • Starting a new job
  • Starting your own business
  • Relocating to a new city for a new opportunity
  • Getting married
  • Being deployed by the military

Essentially, any time someone in your life is starting any kind of journey, whether literal or metaphorical, you can wish them “Godspeed.” 

Godspeed in Popular Culture

Text about Godspeed in popular culture over an image of comic books

The word godspeed crops up in various places in pop culture. You can find godspeed in everything from comic books to music. Here are some of the places where you may have encountered the word godspeed:

Comics

DC Comics featured a character named August Heart. He acquired superpowers and became known as Godspeed. He appeared in The Flash series.

August Heart was a police detective who was best friends with Barry Allen (the alter ego of The Flash). His powers developed after the murder of his brother.

While The Flash used his own superspeed to apprehend criminals, Godspeed was a vigilante. He used his superspeed to kill criminals. Depending on which comic universe he appears in, he is the villain or a more conflicted antihero.  

The Flash comics have inspired a television show on The CW network. The eighteenth episode of the fifth season was titled “Godspeed” and featured the villain as a one-off character. His backstory was changed for the show.

Instead of a police detective and a contemporary of The Flash, he was a science intern in the year 2049. Instead of pursuing criminals, he himself is a criminal stealing chemicals from labs to enhance his superspeed. 

Whether the character is in comics or on TV, the name doesn’t really tie into the meaning behind the word godspeed. It’s more of a play on words, dealing with both his superspeed, his arrogance, and god complex. 

Movies 

In 2016, a Taiwanese film called Godspeed was released. This dark comedy follows a taxi driver who unwittingly picks up a drug trafficker.

On their journey together they get caught up in extortion, murder, and a gang rivalry. Along the way, they form an unconventional friendship. The title is apt considering both their physical and emotional journey. 

Painting

God Speed is the title of a painting by British artist Edmund Leighton, which was exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts in 1900. It portrayed an armored knight preparing to depart for war.

It was the first painting by Leighton in a series of works about chivalry. As the woman is sending her beloved on a dangerous journey, the title is perfectly used. 

Literature

There are a few different pieces of literature that include a variation of godspeed. 

“God Spede the Plough” is the title of a manuscript poem from the early 16th century. It’s a satirical work criticizing the greed of the clergy. It borrows twelve stanzas from A Monk’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. The title is very true to the original use of “god spede” as a phrase.

Godspeed is the title of a 1993 novel by Charles Sheffield. Sheffield is a prolific science-fiction writer, and this book is a definite example of his work in the genre.

In this book, a young man from an isolated planet dreams of traveling through space. He teams up with space pirates in search of the legendary Godspeed drive, which is said to allow people to travel faster than the speed of light.

Again, this title is apt because of the journey the protagonist embarks upon as well as its coming-of-age motif. 

Godspeed is also the name of an announced novel by Will Christopher Baer. Baer, who writes hardboiled neo-noir fiction, has a devoted contingent of fans.

Several years ago, he announced an upcoming novel named Godspeed, but it has never materialized. His fans are still clamoring for it across the internet. Should it ever materialize, it will have gone on quite a journey of its own. 

Bands

There are a few different bands with the word “godspeed” in their name. They’ve all had some fairly interesting journeys of their own. Here are some of them:

  • Godspeed is the name of an American heavy metal band from the mid-1990s. They broke up after just a few years together but reconvened in 2012 and have been together since. 
  • Godspeed was also a band formed in 1999 by Leif Garret, mostly known for being a teen idol in the 1970s. They released a three-song EP and played on TV, but broke up after just a handful of performances. 
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a Canadian experimental music collective. They formed in Montreal in 1994. Though they broke up for a while to pursue separate projects, they got back together in 2010 and continue making music. 

Albums and Songs

A few artists have used variations of “godspeed” as album titles. Interestingly, they were all released pretty close together chronologically. They are:

  • Godspeed is an album by Symphorce, a German progressive power metal band. It was released in 2005.
  • God Speed is an album by popular J-pop star Masami Okui. It was released in February of 2006.
  • Godspeed is an EP by alternative rock band Anberlin. The album, which was released in December 2006, included a song called “Godspeed” as well. 

There are also several songs that include the word “Godspeed” in the title. They include:

  • “Godspeed” is a song from punk rock artist Patti Smith.
  • “Godspeed” is a song by electronica artist BT.
  • “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” is a song by country artist Radney Foster. It was also covered by fellow country artists The Dixie Chicks.
  • “God-Speed-You” is a song by Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf.   
  • “Godspeed” is a song by indie rock artist Jenny Lewis.
  • “Godspeed” is a song by pop-punk group The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
  • “Godspeed Hellhound” is a song by heavy metal band Black Label Society.
  • “Godspeed” is a song by avant-garde soul artist Frank Ocean.
  • “Godspeed” is a song by alternative metal band Alter Bridge. 

3 Other Ways to Say ‘Godspeed’ When Someone is Dying

Examples of other ways to say "Godspeed" when someone is dying

When a friend or loved one is dying, there are ways you can wish them “godspeed” on their journey in other words. Some alternative words and phrases to “godspeed” include:

1. We’ll see each other again.

Even though you’re leaving us, we’ll see each other again in heaven.

2. I wish you peace.

I know you’re in pain right now, and I wish you peace.

3. I’m here with you.

I can’t go with you, but until you’re ready to go I’m here with you.  

The Meaning of Godspeed

Whether your friend or loved one is embarking on a physical journey or a metaphorical one, you can always wish them “godspeed.” This unusual phrase is a great way to wish people good luck in all things to come. 


Sources:
  1. “Godspeed.” Etymonline.com, Online Etymology Dictionary, Etymonline.com.
  2. O’Conner, Patricia T. and Stewart Kellerman “How Fast is Godspeed?” Grammarphobia.com, Grammarphobia, 27 January 2014, Grammarphobia.com.

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