by and by

by and by

Meaning

  • soon; after a while.
  • later; in due course.
  • as time passes.
  • before long.
  • eventually.
  • in due time.

Example Sentences

  1. By and by, she paused to make sure everyone was paying attention.
  2. The taxi ride to the airport seemed to go on forever, but by and by, we arrived.
  3. By and by, I grew accustomed to the new house.
  4. He’ll come for a visit by and by.
  5. By and by, the rain stopped, and the sun began to shine again.
  6. The nurse called me in by and by, and finally, the doctor arrived.
  7. I wasn’t eager to do my chores, but I knew I’d have to get to them by and by.
  8. I asked my grandmother when we could go swimming, and she said, “by and by, dear, just be patient.”
  9. The British Metro trains moved in and out of tunnels on that rocky terrain, and, by and by, they arrived at the big town of Glasgow.

Origin

The phrase “by and by” was originally used in the 14th century as an extension of the preposition “by,” which meant “one by one,” indicating succession. The meanings shifted slightly to “continuously,” followed by “straightway, immediately,” and by the 16th century, it was the adverbial phrase we are familiar with, cognate with the French adverb bientôt, which means “soon.” 

It is found in use as a noun, meaning “the time that is coming.” It has also been used, interestingly enough, by tribespeople in what became colonial South Africa to mean a cannon. Thusly explained by Charles Henry Donovan in his book, With Wilson in Matabeleland, Or, Sport and War in Zambesia (1894):

“They used to call common shells “by-and-byes,” because they could see the smoke, and by-and-by a shell would explode in their midst before they heard the report of the cannon from which it had been discharged.”

When used as a noun and hyphenated as “by-and-by,” it implies an unspecified soonness. This was popularised in the 19th century by the Christian hymn “The Sweet By-and-By” (1868), written by S. Fillmore Bennett with music by Joseph P. Webster. In this context, “sweet by-and-by” is a phrase that denotes an unspecified time in the future.

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