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I was always wondering: When at the end of the phone or other conversation people say "ну давай" meaning "see you later". Where does this come from?

In terms of meaning, I always understood it to mean "давай уже сколько можно болтать, потом поговорим", but I am not sure of the true origins.

It's one of those things where I understand when and how to use the phrase but am completely unsure where it comes from.

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The question is incomplete without a link to the famous "давай, до свидания!" video. This is not related to the origin of the "давай" in the "see you later" sense. –  dasblinkenlight Dec 4 '12 at 3:36
@dasblinkenlight, this is not the point, you may use just one word давай in meaning до свидания. But consider it as informal and probably sometimes at the edge of rudeness. –  dmi3y Dec 5 '12 at 15:26
@dmi3y I added a link to video purely for the fun of it. I strongly doubt that "давай" borders on rudeness, though: it is definitely inappropriate in many situations, but these situations are identical to these where you'd not want to use other informal parting phrases, such as "пока", "бывай", and so on. –  dasblinkenlight Dec 5 '12 at 15:33
@dasblinkenlight, I am sure about it, Russian my native ) –  dmi3y Dec 5 '12 at 15:35
@dmi3y Same here :) –  dasblinkenlight Dec 5 '12 at 15:36
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9 Answers 9

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You are actually asking very, very interesting question. I believe that, among others, exactly such questions should be explored by modern linguists. As far as I know, nobody knows for sure, when and how exactly this form came to usage.

I can only list here all common hypotheses, but it is important to understand that none of them is scientific, i.e. proved by any kind of statistical data. To be more exigent, such estimates can be listed as examples of so-called "folk etymology"

  • The most popular opinion is this form is derived from давай прощаться.
  • Some claim that this is derived from давай руку, but I have strongly doubts about this. Opposed to давай лапу it is less common in Russian to say something like this to human.
  • Some claim that this is derived from давай пять. I wonder why in that case the final form is not "Дай", since actually it is way more common to say дай пять, not давай.
  • The form давай by itself is used as motivational ("давай, сделай это!", "давай, Вася!!!"), so давай can be a shorten form of давай пока and/or famous Давай, до свидания. The most funny part of this is that пока actually is also relatively new form of farewell. Korney Chukovsky wrote:

"Помню, как страшно я был возмущен, когда молодые люди, словно сговорившись друг с другом, стали вместо до свиданья говорить почему-то пока."

  • The doubled form давай-давай is used to ask somebody to act quicker. By analogy with пока-пока one can used давай-давай for saying goodbye when he/she is in a hurry: "Давай-давай, Оль, я побежала уже на работу". And shortened form "давай" had been used in same meaning: "Давай, мне пора".

Also, I don't know why, but, to my knowledge, the word давай with this meaning is one of the most popular russian word among non-native speakers. Moreover, it is quite popular among those who even don't know Russian. I've encountered this usage in Сentral Asia, in Caucasus and among Estonians and Lithuanian people. The second such word is вообще :)

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The doubled form 'давай-давай' also means ironic doubt in case of success, like (I'm not 100% sure)'well,well,well' in English. –  eugene Dec 5 '12 at 4:46
Very good answer! I've always interpreted “давай” (in this context) as “Давай, пора прощаться”, meaning “Come on, it's time to say goodbye”. –  Yury Dec 5 '12 at 17:56
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As a native speaker, I believe this means "давай прощаться", "давай" is often used in Russian in the meaning Let's + any verb. You can use "давай" actually with all verbs to suggest doing something. Examples: Давай поцелуемся. Давай останемся. Давай посмотрим... I hope I helped :)

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Guys, almost everybody here are native speakers, let's stop emphasizing this. :-) –  farfareast Dec 5 '12 at 16:44
@farfareast This is thus a very weird place where Russians discuss Russian in English. –  Roman Shapovalov May 13 at 10:38
@RomanShapovalov I agree but it was fun. It resembles me Inversion-of-control pattern in programming (weird but useful). If English speaker explained some English phrase to us (Russian speakers) in Russian it would make sense. Apparently the reversal of this is also useful. Some features of Russian you can only understand when compare it to another language. So you need to know this other language, so if you know it, why not to write in it also as if you are explaining it to a foreigner. –  farfareast May 26 at 4:09
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It is very interesting question indeed. It is also very good answer by shabunc. For example, I did not know that "Пока" was introduced at Korney Chukovsky's time - beginning of 20th century. I thought it existed always :-). And I did not know also about his attitude to this word introduction then.

I remember when "давай" in place of "до свидания" or "пока" was introduced. It was in the end of 1970s - beginning of 80s. I remember how I myself started to use it. My understanding of its meaning was the bullet number 4 in shabunc's list, i.e. motivational.

Problem with more formal expressions of goodbye like "прощай" (almost never used), "до свидания", "счастливо", and even "пока" is that they have too much pathos for certain situations. When you parting with a good friend casually, you do not want to show too much senses but at the same time you want to finish your conversation on a positive note. Something like wish him/her good luck but without too much pathos. Here "давай" comes into play with a hand wave for example. Давай goes (to my mind, at least that is what I was thinking when I was using it) as shortening of "давай, будь здоров", "давай, наслаждайся жизнью", "давай, делай что задумал", or if I may mix Russian and English "давай, continue with your life".

The fact is that давай in motivational meaning (used as a soft motivation in Russian) conveys some positive attitude to the person who it is addressed to. Something like "I believe you can do it."

When I used/use it personally I do not think about "давай прощаться", "давай руку", "давай пять" or "давай-давай". But it is just me. :-)

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I feel so, too. +1. –  Gangnus Dec 15 '12 at 12:45
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In addition, in this case I think, 'давай' - is a sort of "junk word" (слово-паразит).
- давай, до завтра.
- ну давай, пока!
- давай, до встречи!
- ну давай, увидимся.
or short:
- (ну) давай!

Not everyone likes this figure of speech, in response you can get a joke:
- давай! - не дам!

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+1 An interesting thought - almost everything could develop from a junk word. –  Gangnus Dec 15 '12 at 12:55
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A very good question indeed. I have been pondering this for a while too and conclude that the origin lies in an old Russian tradition of drinking, specifically toasting. It is equivalent to a parting exclamation of "Cheers!". Everybody is familiar with a common toast "Давай (выпьем) за..." as in Let's drink to...A common one is "Давай за здоровье "may we all be healthy" akin to "Cheers." I have been a part of many a heated convesation that ended with a peace-maiking, amicable "Ну ладно, давай за..."(Well, okay, let's drink to...) With time it shortened to "Ну...давай," or simply "давай!" Eventually, it became a positive parting greeting. Incidentally, a lot of my male friends end conversations with "Ну...давай" whereas I can not think of any female friend who does. Coincidence? Well, maybe. "Ну...давай"

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It is really a very interesing question. And there were many interesting answers :-) but, I guess, I've got one more, a little bit different.

Давай is a word, that combines two meanings. One one hand, it connotates with бывай (будь здоров). On the other, it means давай иди уже, the time for conversation is over. At the same time.

So, as a result, we have something about "Be OK, I'm glad to meet you, but it's time to stop that" in one word. I have NOT any scientific proofs, it's just my feeling of language.

(Yes, yes, native russian with catastrophic lack of practice in English, sorry for bad one).

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I believe this meant for ending a discussion in the course of which the sides had reached an agreement about any actions in the future. Thus the word could initially be a sign that the agreement remains in force even if other topics were discussed after it, because otherwise the later discussion could create an impression that the agreement idea is abandoned or not that important.

-- Ну давай тогда, будем действовать как договорились.

-- Хорошо, давай, до свидания тогда.

-- Давай встретимся на той неделе, обсудим наши результаты.

-- Ну давай тогда, до встречи.

-- Давай действуй, нечего тут базарить, время терять!

-- Хорошо, сделаю, как вы сказали.

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I have noticed that in many cases "давай" is not used alone, especially when two persons are talking using the phone. When one of them is ready to finish the talk, he/she starts to say "давай". At the same time the other person may want to add some final phrases. At the end of the conversation this second person will use some words like до свидания, до встречи, пока, etc. indicating that the talk is over. So, in this case the meaning of "давай" is "давай прощаться".

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I suppose that it's just a shortening for «давай прощаться» или «давай закругляться».

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While probably being legit, your answer does not seem to add to the answers given by the other users. If you want to support one of the answers given earlier, please up-vote it rather then repost. –  Quassnoi Dec 14 '12 at 16:08
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