96

I got a mail with the subject "So long and thanks for all the fish!" from my Manager. What does it mean?

123

It is a quotation from Episode Three of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series by Douglas Adams.

This is a comedy, the phrase, as used there, is to signify that Dolphins are more intelligent than humans.
In the story, Earth is destroyed, the dolphins knew this was coming and left the planet.

The full quotation is:

Curiously enough, the dolphins had long known of the impending demolition of Earth and had made many attempts to alert mankind to the danger. But most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs, or whistle for titbits, so they eventually gave up and left the Earth by their own means - shortly before the Vogons arrived. The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double backwards somersault through a hoop, whilst whistling the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. But, in fact, the message was this “So long and thanks for all the fish”.

Subsequently, Douglas Adams published a book with the title So Long and Thanks for all the Fish which was based upon the original series.

So, in the context of your email, it is just an attempt at humour by someone leaving.

  • 60
    So it could mean the company's going under and he's getting out while he can? – WGroleau Jan 16 '17 at 14:18
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    @WGroleau: Exactly so. – Chenmunka Jan 16 '17 at 14:23
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    @WGroleau I mean, possibly, if he's inclined to that sort of hidden message. More likely he's just hoping to get a laugh by referencing the story. – Tin Man Jan 16 '17 at 18:29
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    I think there must be a (possibly mild) implication that the sender of the message thinks its recipients will be more in need of any good luck that is going around, than he will. – nigel222 Jan 17 '17 at 9:58
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    The dolphins' sentence also contains a "Thank you" to the humans for feeding them, even if it is humorous or ironic or even sarcastic (since only the ones in captivity were fed -- but then apparently they were in captivity voluntarily, weren't they? Probably because they got fed...). So the manager's sentence implies a thank you for nice things done to him or her which were maybe not explicitly acknowledged at the time. It's possible that s/he is referring to his/her salary though ;-). – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 17 '17 at 14:19
21

To boil it down to its most basic: It's a quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and has become a humorous way of saying "Goodbye".

17

"So long and thanks for all the fish" is the title of the fourth book from the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" tetralogy. Used in a message it is just a humourous way to say goodbye, calling to mind the leaving of the dolphins from Earth saying thanks for the fish they had gotten.

  • 21
    Tetralogy is inaccurate. Mostly Harmless is described on the cover as "the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers trilogy". :) – IanF1 Jan 16 '17 at 21:27
  • @IanF1: Well, "Mostly Harmless" was published in 1992, seven years after the book of four novels including "So long and thanks for all the fish", the fourth one in the cycle, had been. And seventeen years later, in 2009 there appeared "And Another Thing... ". – VictorB Jan 16 '17 at 21:51
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    It was a line in the first book, IIRC – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 17 '17 at 4:12
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    Yes, the title of the fourth book is itself only meaningful because it's quoting a line from the first book. – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 '17 at 16:14
15

As the others have said, the line is a quote. The phrase "So long" is an informal synonym for "Goodbye".

  • 4
    This answer deserves to be higher. The literal meaning of the quote in context may be clear to native speakers, but to anyone who hasn’t come across the phrase So long! before, it’s not at all clear. – PLL Jan 19 '17 at 4:30
8

The line is the title of a humorous novel by Douglas Adams. It refers to dolphins, who were much more advanced than we had thought, leaving Earth prior to its destruction to make room for a "hyperspace bypass". Having a particularly British sense of decorum, they could not leave without thanking us for the fish they had eaten.

I have no idea what your manager's email was about. In context with its subject line, it could be that he is good-naturedly announcing he will be away from the office for a while, or maybe permanently.

  • 1
    It's quoting a line from the first book, rather than the title of the fourth book. The fourth book's title is itself a reference to the line's meaning, established in its first appearance in the first book. – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 '17 at 16:16
1

As others have said - it is a quote from Douglas Adams the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Almost certainly he is referencing saying goodbye - probably on a permanent basis or possibly simply for a long time.

  • As others have said ... - "Say something once, why say it again?" Talking Teads, Psycho Killer – Mawg Jan 19 '17 at 9:42
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    @Mawg Talking Teads. qu'est-ce que c'est? – richardb Jan 19 '17 at 15:34
1

I just recently used this expression, and got the same question. Other answers (especially the one from Chenmunka) have described the reference, but I’m not sure they fully describe what I was trying to say. For me, and I believe most others, it's a humorous way to say 3 things simultaneously:

  1. Goodbye.
  2. Thanks for all the nice things you’ve done for me.
  3. The goodbye is permanent: I’m not coming back, and most likely I’ll never see or hear from any of you again.

It’s that third connotation that makes people want to use humor. It keeps the goodbye from being too melodramatic.

1

Adams' line "thanks for all the fish" might be a nod toward the intertextuality of several science fiction writers. Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout being his nod towards his fellow writer Theodore Sturgeon, Philip Farmer's "Venus on the Half-Shell" under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout nods toward Vonnegut, and then Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" nods toward 'Half-Shell's' 'definitive answer. And one more nod perhaps: half-shells come from oysters, a type of shellfish anyhow.

-2

From HHGTTG books, Its a way of saying goodbye when you leave, particularly if your getting a golden handshake or redundancy - It means "Goodbye, I wont be back and I've got a parachute", I guess its similar "So long suckers" ... IE, Goodbye, I've got something better to do - I'm leaving for bigger and better. Although for the early retiree that usually means - slippers & daytime TV

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    I've never at all seen the phrase used to indicate the presence of a golden parachute, and the source quotation doesn't give that meaning either. I don't know where you're getting that from. – Chris Hayes Jan 18 '17 at 22:52
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    There's an assumption here that someone who hasn't heard the 'so long' phrase would know what HHGTTG means. I've never seen any indication of a golden parachute there. It certainly doesn't line up to the source material. – AJFaraday Jan 19 '17 at 9:42
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    After my first stint of contracting, which was much more lucrative than perm, I left that very message on my desk – Mawg Jan 19 '17 at 9:44

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