French Friday #56: Much “adieu” about nothing

The internet is great for all kinds of things. You can play games, you can learn stuff, you can talk to friends. The internet is also great for exposing all kinds of ignorance. Don’t worry; I’m here to make you smarter today. See, I’ve noticed that there is rampant confusion about the two words “adieu” and “ado.” Let’s get this straightened out shall we?

First off, “ado” is an English word. It means “busy activity,” “a fuss,” “hubbub.” Shakespeare used it in the title of his play “Much Ado About Nothing” to mean people were unnecessarily making a big deal about something. In other words, making a mountain out of a molehill. We also use it in the phrase, “without further ado,” usually in the context of introducing someone or something to a group. The idea here is, “we’re going to truncate this ceremony and get right down to the good stuff.” No more hubbub. No more fuss. No more ado.

Adieu” is a French word. It is the literal French counterpart to the Spanish “adiós.” Literally, they both mean “to God;” in common use, they mean goodbye. The idea is, upon parting, you are committing the person into God’s care. Now, in Spanish, “adiós” is a benign farewell. You can use it anytime and it doesn’t mean anything other than “goodbye.” Not so for the French adieu. There are many, many other ways to say goodbye in French that sound much more modern than the archaic adieu. In addition to sounding rather old-fashioned, adieu is imbued with overtones of finality. This is what you say when you’re on your death bed, or moving to the other side of the world with the knowledge that you’ll never return, or about to board the Titanic. Adieu is a dramatic word. “This is it, we will never see each other again!” One hand flung to the forehead with the other at your chest to still those heart palpitations. Marie-Antoinette signed her last letter to her children with “adieu” before being escorted to the scaffold. This is not a word for casual conversation, although my French students impishly enjoy using it just to be snots.

A fountain at the site where the guillotine once stood in Place de la Concorde.

A fountain at the site where the guillotine once stood in Place de la Concorde.

Aside from the difference in definition of ado and adieu, they aren’t even pronounced the same. Ado = a-doo
Adieu = a-dyuh
These aren’t interchangeable.

See? Whaditellya? The internet is good for lots of things. Go and spread the knowledge.

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