What does Godspeed mean when someone dies?

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What does the term Godspeed mean?

If you grew up with your grandparents or lived in a religious community, then this term might be very familiar. Either that or people used the term as a sort of blessing. 


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

Origin of the term Godspeed

There is some debate as to when the term came into action, but we trace the usage of this term back to the Middle English Period. During the 14th or 15th century, the term godspeed or “god speid” appeared multiple times. “The Knight’s Tale” from Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”(1385) featured this term. “God spede yow go forth and ley on faste.” The Oxford English Dictionary regards the text called “Sir Tristrem” from the 1300s that used the phrase for the first time in the phrase “He may bidde god me spede”.


Many scholars agree that the current context with which we use the word did not come into effect before the 1500s. The Tyndale Bible (1526) is considered to be the first to use “godspeed” in its current context. “Yf ther come eny vnto you and bringe not this learninge him receave not to housse: neither bid him God spede.” William Shakespeare also contributed to bringing this term to popularity by using the word in “Richard II”(1597) “A brace of draimen bid, God speed him wel.”

Is Godspeed a religious term?

The term Godspeed treads the line between being a religious phrase or a generic term. Even though the term godspeed is found in both Tyndale Bible and King James Version, the term is also used colloquially. In the colloquial context, it simply means to wish someone well or to wish a safe journey upon someone, both physically and metaphorically. In a religious context, it can suggest the omnipresent nature of God. The speaker usually suggests that God will look after someone else or will guide them on their journey or will grant them success.

Relation to the term Godspeed and Death

Why do we say Godspeed during a funeral or a celebration of life ceremony? The term Godspeed, as we discussed, means wishing someone well or a safe journey. Well, almost all cultures and religion believes in some sort of an afterlife. A common belief that is shared is that the spirit of the deceased journeys towards heaven (or similar) after they have passed away. Saying “godspeed” during a funeral just shows people wishing the spirit of the deceased a safe journey to the afterlife. It is also a way to avoid saying “goodbye”, which may feel too eternal and permanent.


We consider life to be a long journey with multiple trials and tribulations. We do not consider the death of a person to be the end of their journey. Depending on your spiritual and religious beliefs, death might just be a beginning of a new journey and, for that, godspeed.