Entries linking to to-do
Old English to "in the direction of, for the purpose of, furthermore," from West Germanic *to (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian to, Dutch toe, Old High German zuo, German zu "to"), from PIE pronominal base *do- "to, toward, upward" (source also of Latin donec "as long as," Old Church Slavonic do "as far as, to," Greek suffix -de "to, toward," Old Irish do, Lithuanian da-), from demonstrative *de-. Not found in Scandinavian, where the equivalent of till (prep.) is used.
The nearly universal use of to with infinitives (to sleep, to dream, etc.) arose in Middle English out of the Old English dative use of to, and it helped drive out the Old English inflectional endings (though in this use to itself is a mere sign, without meaning).
Commonly used as a prefix in Middle English (to-hear "listen to," etc.), but few of these survive (to-do, together, and time references such as today, tonight, tomorrow — Chaucer also has to-yeere). To and fro "side to side" is attested from mid-14c. Phrase what's it to you "how does that concern you?" (1819) is a modern form of an old question:
Huæd is ðec ðæs?
[John xxi:22, in Lindisfarne Gospel, c.950]
"perform, execute, achieve, carry out, bring to pass by procedure of any kind," etc., Middle English do, first person singular of Old English don "make, act, perform, cause; to put, to place," from West Germanic *doanan (source also of Old Saxon duan, Old Frisian dwa, Dutch doen, Old High German tuon, German tun), from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put, place."
Use as an auxiliary began in Middle English. Sense of "to put, place, lay" is obsolete except in phrases such as do away with. Periphrastic form in negative sentences (They did not think) replaced the Old English negative particles (Hie ne wendon).
Meaning "visit as a tourist" is from 1817. In old slang it meant "to hoax, cheat, swindle" (1640s). Slang meaning "to do the sex act with or to" is from 1913.
Slang do in "bring disaster upon, kill" is by 1905. To have to do with "have concern or connection with" is from late 13c. To do without "dispense with" is from 1713. Expression do or die indicating determination to succeed despite dangers or obstacles is attested from 1620s.
late 14c., "conflict, fighting; difficulty, trouble," a contraction of at do, literally "to do," a dialectal formation in the Norse-influenced areas of northern England: some Scandinavian languages used at with the infinitive of a verb where Modern English uses to.
From use of the infinitive in much ado ("much to do") and similar phrases, ado came to be regarded as a noun. Compare the sense evolution in to-do and affair (from French infinitive phrase à faire "to do"). The weakened meaning "fuss" is from early 15c. Also used in Middle English for "dealings, traffic," and "sexual intercourse" (both c. 1400).
updated on October 10, 2017