A reader recently wrote me a question concerning the word “goombye,” which appears in this up-tempo Ivie Anderson song (penned by Duke Ellington) from 1939:
At first glance, I figured “goombye” might be an awkward attempt to transcribe African-American English (what the “m” would indicate, I have no idea). However, it seems clear that “goombye” is treated as a separate word from “goodbye;” it is here pronounced gumbaɪ, with the “goom” rhyming with “doom.”
Although “goom-bye” may have been African-American in origin, it seems to have used broadly in mid-20th-Century texts. A quick Google NGram search makes it clear that the word was always extremely infrequent, however. I get the hazy impression that it had a kind of jazzy/beatnicky connotation, although to be fair, most slang from that era sounds like that to my contemporary ears. (It does seem to have appeared once or twice in Kerouac’s writing, though).
In his book on slang, Flappers 2 Rappers, Tom Dalzell cites the word as being part of a trend toward puns and word-play in greetings and farewells around the time of the 1940s:
…good-byes could be handled with any number of puns, false borrowings, and slang ceremonial expressions such as “Alcohol you; Au Reservoir; Be Seein’ Ya; Be seein’ you in the funnies; Bye-Bye buy bonds; Good-bye gate, I must evaporate; Goom bye …
To be honest, though, I have not the faintest idea what “goombye” could be a pun on. “Kumbabaya” wasn’t sung under that title until the 1940s (apparently), and “goombah” strikes me as entering the national consciousness somewhat later (although Tony Romano apparently released a song called “Goombye Goomba” in the 1950s). Is it supposed to be a play on “go on by?”
Another possibility is that the word started off as some kind of “faux-netic” transcription. Since “Goodbye” is such a common word, we often “slur” it a bit, most notably by dropping the /d/; I often pronounce it gʊbaɪ (“goo’bye”). I could see “goombye” being an awkward attempt to indicate this, but it’s hard to say if this is the case or not.
So I must acknowledge the possibility that this was merely a quirky attempt at spelling which was then “misinterpreted” by Ivie Anderson and other singers as constituting an entirely different word. But unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate another recording of “goombye” to confirm this. Has anybody heard an old recording of this word?