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I wonder why the particle off  is used in these verbs. I know their meanings, but I don’t understand why off  is used. Does anyone know why?

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list of similar phrases: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/… –  Ataraxia Sep 25 '12 at 2:54
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I was going to say it's almost dismissive, but then remembered kick off (to start a ball game) and the noun play-off (in the sense of "tie-breaker") so that doesn't really work. –  Andrew Leach Sep 25 '12 at 8:10
    
@AndrewLeach Playoff refers to the way the losing team is sent off - out of contention. Kick off referred originally to kicking the (American) football off its tee - since a kick off occurs at the start of a game (as well as other times) it's become a colloquialism for starting an endeavor. The "off"(s) in the original question have a specifically sexual meaning. Purely guessing, but it may have something to do with the opposite of being "turned on". –  Marcus_33 Sep 25 '12 at 17:28
    
In a similar vein, get your rocks off, beat off, toss off, and whack (one) off. –  Daniel Harbour Sep 26 '12 at 18:23
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1 Answer 1

The off in those particular verb phrases is used as an adverb. The meaning I'll take from wikipedia:

  1. In a direction away from the speaker or object.

    He drove off in a cloud of smoke.

  2. Into a state of non-operation; into a state of non-existence.

    Please switch off the light when you leave.

So in the case of jerk off we're speaking of a jerking motion away from the ahem "object". Jack off is just a bowdlerized version of the phrase. Get off usually means to get away from (so that you're no longer on top of) something or someone, or more metaphorically to experience excitement or orgasm. In those instances, it's evoking really the "out of body" experience.

You could also interpret the meaning of off in get off to be sense 2: you're "going until you're finished."

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Take off with the sense doff, and take off with the sense become airborne, are self-explanatory, but what about take off with the sense impersonate? –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 25 '12 at 18:57
    
I hear that as to "take" the personality/mannerisms "off" someone else and put them on display. –  ghoppe Sep 25 '12 at 19:30
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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 25 '12 at 18:47

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