“Stay safe” seems to be the go-to expression these days. You see it at the end of email messages, you say it when you part from friends and, to show “we are in this together” solidarity, when you depart from strangers. And you hear it at the conclusion of national news broadcasts.
Can’t we do better than “Stay safe”?
The expression has, in a way, replaced “goodbye” as a way to wish folks good fortune when we part from them. “Goodbye,” of course, is a shortened form of “God be with ye,” an injunction that we probably don’t have in mind when we say it, but most goodbye-sayers would probably agree with the wish to have God as someone’s companion. But “stay safe” has a much narrower scope. First of all, the word “stay” seems rather passive and joyless, unless you are in a state of blissful meditation. The implication is that any change that might happen will be a change for the worse, so it’s best to stay the way you are. And “safe” implies a world full of threats, when being safe is the best we can hope for. “Goodbye” at the very least suggests that God might be with one, presumably helping, on the next adventure. “Stay safe” does not carry that more active implication.
Do you hear that sound? It’s my readers dropping away . . ..
And what about written salutations? I was taught to conclude both what was called “the friendly letter” and “the business letter” with “Sincerely,” which seems a bit lame. Do you really need to assure your reader that you actually mean what you said? “Yours truly” carries the same implication, and in most cases the word “yours” is dubious at best – “yours” in what way? But “stay safe” as a sign-off to written text just seems a bit defeatist, no matter the good intentions.
So, what’s a better way to end a personal or written connection? The field is wide open. I remember reading that Alexander Graham Bell wanted the people using the telephone to begin with “Ahoy!” (which I am rather fond of), but eventually Edison’s choice, “Hello,” won the day, except for “Hi” in email, which could be a shortened form of “Ahoy.” (I’m going to start using “Ahoy,” though I’m tempted to go with “Wassup” or “Sup.”) The point is, we can make a choice here. We are not stuck with “Stay safe.” Make a great choice, and watch it catch on!
I kinda like “Later,” short for “I’ll see you later,” which could mean, realistically, “I hope to see you later.” Some optimism there, but we can do better. Let’s try for some originality.
How about “Vax” – short for “vaccine,” thus a hopeful look into the future. “Moo” works the same way (if you are into etymology), and both have the advantage of making no sense to the uninitiated, which will help to convert young people.
More readers stopping here.
How about “Skin”? This could be short for “asking,” which, unlike “stay safe,” suggests an open anticipation of response. “Skin” also acknowledges an end to social distancing. When did a friendly hug or handshake ever seem so appealing?
And yet, and yet . . . “Stay safe” has a warm appeal. It’s what your mom wished for you when you parted, and what you wished for your vulnerable kids. It’s more than a gentle reminder to wear a mask and keep your social distance. It may express a magical wish, like some people’s concept of prayer, to place a soft protective bubble around the person being addressed. Who wouldn’t want that? Maybe some sort of macho asshole who sees safety as an affront to his constitutional right to be a macho asshole – that person might object. But for the rest of us,