Fwd: question

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sat Feb 5 02:22:42 UTC 2005

On Fri, 4 Feb 2005 18:25:08 -0500, Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:
>On Feb 4, 2005, at 4:51 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> forwarded from the Yale Rabbi via a colleague,.  Anyone know?
>> ==============
>> The Rabbi, Jim Ponet, asks:
>> ... explain if you will the structure "Not to worry."  Does it emulate
>> anything Yiddish.  Then there's "to kill for,"  "to die for."
>> It does follow a Hebrew structure arguable.  But I doubt that origin.
>> --- end forwarded text
>FWIW, I've always considered "not to worry" to be an annoying Briticism.

The usage books agree that the expression originated in the UK.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. 1993.
<not to worry>
was originally a British English idiom, meaning "don't worry," "never
fear," but it's now beginning to appear in Conversational and Informal
American use.

The OED3 draft entry for "not" has this note under sense 5a(c):

(c) colloq. <not to -->: do not --.
Webster's Dict. Eng. Usage (1989) 670-1 noted the uncommonness of the
phrase <not to worry> in American English, and its disapproval by some
commentators, but U.S. examples are not uncommon from the later 1980s

Newspaperarchive finds scattered US usage in the '60s, e.g.:

Lima News (Ohio), May 25, 1962, p. 20/2
"You're not here under arrest. You can leave when the hospital will
release you. Mrs. Barrett said she would look after your pets. Not to
[from the serialized version of _One for My Dame_ by Jack Webb]
Salisbury Times (Md.), May 21, 1964, p. 6/2
Not to worry. Don't worry about anything. Go a-Maying. Like us.

For the most part, early cites for "not to worry" appear in British or at
least European contexts.  (It probably entered Canadian English first.)

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list