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ODE gives a connection between the German verb zielen and the English preposition till. The semantic connection between cultivating land and German zielen seems a bit far-fetched. I would rather see a connection between German das Land bestellen and English to till the land.

I wonder why this connection is not seen or discussed. And it is for me an example of how easily in etymology one sticks to similar words as zielen even when the semantics is doubtful.

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You are illegitimately comparing modern senses. If you consult an historical dictionary such as OED for the uses and meanings of ancestral forms in English and cognate languages you will find that the semantic connection is perfectly transparent and that there is no need to postulate that a form in /t-/ is cognate with one in /st-/. –  StoneyB May 11 at 14:27
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@rogermue: As it turns out, what changes fastest is meanings, and what changes slowest is sounds. And you can tell when the sounds changed because they all changed at once (glacially speaking -- it takes a century or so for a sound change to spread, and there is always detritus), and you can trace the same sound correlation in hundreds of word pairs. Well, dozens to start with, anyway. Isolated pairs are useless; only multiple pairs show relations. –  John Lawler May 11 at 15:17
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There's nothing unusual about this semantic change. OED "†1. intr. To strive, exert oneself, labour, work" developed into "4a. trans. To bestow labour and attention, such as ploughing, harrowing, manuring, etc., upon (land) so as to fit it for raising crops; to cultivate." –  Alex B. May 11 at 15:20
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The fact that there aren't any cognate pairs where English t : German st pretty much rules out a connection between till and bestellen. –  Tom Recht May 12 at 0:05
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What is your question? –  tchrist May 12 at 21:26

1 Answer 1

From etymonline

till (v.)
"cultivate (land)" early 13c.; "plow," late 14c., from Old English tilian "cultivate, tend, work at, get by labor," originally "strive after, aim at, aspire to," related to till "fixed point, goal," and til "good, useful, suitable," from Proto-Germanic *tilojan (cognates: Old Frisian tilia "to get, cultivate," Old Saxon tilian "to obtain," Middle Dutch, Dutch telen "to breed, raise, cultivate, cause," Old High German zilon "to strive," German zielen "to aim, strive"), from source of till (prep.).
For sense development, compare expression work the land, Old Norse yrkja "work," but especially "cultivate" (and also "to make verses"); Old Church Slavonic delati "work," also "cultivate." Related: Tilled; tilling.

If the original meaning of tilian was "strive after, aim at, aspire", the semantic relation to German zielen should be clear (as ziel mean "goal").

The bold part sounds plausible to me.

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