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Where does the phrase sick to my stomach come from? Never stopped to think of it before. It doesn’t even seem grammatically correct.

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It's an idiom, so it doesn't have to be grammatically or semantically "correct". All it has to do is have a meaning that speakers & listeners and writers & readers understand. There are many others, e.g., "I'm sick to death of your whining", "sick at heart", "sick as a parrot" (all three in Macmillan Dictionary). – user21497 Nov 22 '12 at 23:47
I'm sick up to here with this sort of question. Are we being asked to explain the grammar? The meaning? Try to find the first recorded use? Not Constructive, I feel. – FumbleFingers Nov 22 '12 at 23:54
@Fumble: This is an etymology Q: "Where does the phrase ... come from?" OP apparently knows the meaning but indirectly questions its grammaticality. OP thinks, perhaps, it should be "sick in my stomach" or "my stomach feels bad" or some such, but that's semantics and not grammar. Anglophones are famous for grammar & sex fetishes & fixations. We have a Lowthy heritage. – user21497 Nov 23 '12 at 0:30
@Bill Franke: I don't really understand the point you're making, but I've posted an answer which hopefully will simultaneously explain to OP how we got where we are, and why it's Not Constructive. Essentially, commonplace idioms don't necessarily conform to current concepts of grammar or "best" choice of preposition - which I assume is what you meant by your first comment. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '12 at 2:32
I agree w/ the initial remark (and reaction) from @FumbleFingers – nothing wrong with the question per se, but the lack of details is rather annoying. As came out in the ensuing conversation, what's the real issue? Its origin? Its preposition? Its medical accuracy? Its roots? The timeframe it entered the vernacular? Surely an O.P. could elaborate with a little more than "I've never stopped to think of it before." If that's the case, I'd prefer an O.P. think about it first, do some research, and if a mystery still remains, they could then ask a more informed question, sharing their findings. – J.R. Nov 23 '12 at 10:38
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Google n-gram shows it showing up around 1890 for the first time. Here's an editorial from 1905 where a reader asks the same exact question you have. The editor's explanation is that the speaker means it for emphasis or inclusiveness: i.e., not just sick at their stomach, but from somewhere (head, mouth, somewhere else) through and including their stomach.

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I voted to close as Not Constructive (as Bill Franke says, it's an idiom, so concepts of present-day "grammaticality" don't really come into it). But I disagree with the only existing answer, so...

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I stopped the chart at 1970, but if you just look at the last 60 years (when most of us were learning English), it's pretty obvious the switch to "to" rather than "at" has been almost unanimous. Even the relatively tiny number of instances in modern times probably includes a significant proportion that are just citations of earlier usages.

I'd also note that OP may be thinking primarily (or only) of the now-ubiquitous (I'm exasperated) sense. That's a trivial metaphoric extension which could have applied at any time in the past - it's just that we use it a lot more nowadays...

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The particular choice of preposition isn't governed by any considerations of grammar. Possibly the current preference for "to" is influenced by analogy to related expressions like I've had it up to here (which as that NGram shows, also really took off after the war).

There really is nothing unusual about such shifts in idiomatic usage, nor is there anything unusual about the fact that natural "lag" sometimes means the version we actually use doesn't fit perfectly with our more general concepts of "grammaticality" at any given time.

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Remember that it America, saying one is sick normally means nothing more than that one is ill, not that one is about to be sick. – tchrist Nov 24 '12 at 0:28
@tchrist: I didn't know that. Well, to be honest I've never really thought about it that way - if you're sick of someone/something, you're fed up with it. If you're just sick (or sick with something), you're ill. Totally separate words, to me. But NGrams prevalence figures for sick of him are much the same in US/UK corpuses, and I'd have thought they'd practically all be for the "fed up" sense. – FumbleFingers Nov 24 '12 at 0:48

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