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As a Southerner, I completely understand the meaning of fixing to. It means I'm getting ready to do something. But what I don't understand is where this rather unusual usage of fix comes from. Nothing actually gets fixed! Do you know where this phrase originates?

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As an aside... back in the day, Southerners also said "viddles" for food. I think I know the etymology on that one... but it's still kinda interesting. –  John Berryman May 27 '11 at 17:43

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

fix (v.) late 14c., "set (one's eyes or mind) on something," probably from O.Fr. *fixer, from fixe "fixed," from L. fixus "fixed, fast, immovable, established, settled," pp. of figere "to fix, fasten," from PIE base *dhigw- "to stick, to fix." Sense of "fasten, attach" is c.1400; that of "settle, assign" is pre-1500 and evolved into "adjust, arrange" (1660s), then "repair" (1737). Sense of "tamper with" (a fight, a jury, etc.) is 1790. As euphemism for "castrate a pet" it dates from 1930. Related: Fixed; fixedly (1590s); fixing.

From EtymOnline

I'd speculate it came from arranging oneself's affairs before doing something.

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Ah yes, so like fix in the sense of fixate — makes perfect sense! –  Kosmonaut May 27 '11 at 14:46
+1 Never thought of it that way: "I'm fixing my eye on the goal of doing something." I might have to stop making fun of Southerners. –  KitFox May 27 '11 at 16:06

I agree; "arrange" seems to be the key. I'm actually not sure that the "getting ready" sense of "fix" is that unusual; Southerners (and even Northerners, I think) often use "fix" in sentences like "I fixed you some dinner," where we mean "I prepared dinner" or "I got dinner ready." "Fixing to" works in just the same way: when you're fixing to do something, you are preparing to do it, or as you say, you're getting ready to do it. I imagine that that sense of "fix" as "adjust or arrange" is how we got phrases like "I fixed dinner" in the first place, and "fixing to" is an extension of that usage.

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I believe, based on my own personal experience of being Southern bred and born, that our use of "fixing to do..." has more to do with another practical activity: Fixing the sights of your hunting rifle upon whatever critter you need to put food on your table. We could easily exchange one phrase for the other. "I'm fixing to leave for work" would become "I've got my sights set on getting to work." The only real difference is the "fixing" phrase is shorter, something for which we talkative Southerns are not known.

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The OED has a series of quotations which show the evolution of this sense of fixing.

16a: To intend; to arrange, get ready, make preparations, for or to do something. Also with out and up. U.S.

1716 B. Church Philip's War: He fixes for another Expedition.
1779 D. Livermore in New Hampsh. Hist. Soc. Coll.: Troops are busy in clearing and fixing for laying the foundations of the huts.
1854–5 in N. E. Eliason Tarheel Talk: Aunt Lizy is just fixing to go to church.
1871 H. B. Stowe Oldtown Fireside Stories: He was a fixin' out for the voyage.
1875 ‘M. Twain’ Speeches: You fix up for the drought.
1907 Springfield (Mass.) Weekly Republican What a pretty night! The moon is fixing to shine!
1914 G. Atherton Perch of Devil: I meet … schoolgirls … so painted up they look as if they was fixin' … to be bad.

So clearly, the first meaning in this sense was "make the preparations for". This is an extension of the OED's definitions 14a and 14b.

14a: To adjust, make ready for use (arms, instruments, etc.); to arrange in proper order.

1663 S. Pepys Diary: I found … the armes well fixed, charged, and primed.
1666 Earl of Orrery Coll. State Lett. We have in every garrison one gunsmith … who buys arms for us, and fixes them up privately.
1697 W. Dampier New Voy. around World We went back … to fix our Rigging, which was shattered in the Fight.

14b. In wider sense (chiefly U.S. colloq.): To arrange, get ready, put in order; to put to rights, make tidy, ‘rig up’; spec. to prepare (food or drink). Also with off, over, and up and const. for (doing something).

1725 S. Willard in H. S. Nourse Early Rec. Lancaster, Mass.: I fixed the men out with stores.
1783 Jas. Smith Tour 1 Dec. in Ohio State Archaeol. & Hist. Q.: After having fixed up our luggage and taken breakfast we started from Capt. Owsley's.
1804 W. Clark Let. 21 May in Jrnls. Lewis & Clark Exped.: Captain Lewis … has been detained at St. Louis to fix off the Osage chiefs.
1832 F. Trollope Notebks. in Domest. Manners Amer.: You must fix me a drink.
1832 Macaulay Life & Lett.: As soon as I was fixed in my best and had breakfasted.
1839 F. Marryat Diary in Amer.: ‘Shall I fix your coat or your breakfast first?’
1842 Dickens Amer. Notes: You call upon a gentleman in a country town, and his help informs you that he is ‘fixing himself’ just now, but will be down directly: by which you are to understand that he is dressing.
1842 Dickens Amer. Notes: You inquire..whether breakfast will be ready soon, and he tells you … they were ‘fixing the tables:’ in other words, laying the cloth.
1842 Dickens Amer. Notes: You are advised to have recourse to Doctor so and so, who will ‘fix you’ in no time.

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