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I never heard the expression "not to worry" when I was young (I am 78 yrs old). Now i seem to hear it all the time. It sounds like a literal translation from some language where the infinitive is preceded by a negative. Can you tell me if that is the case, and if so, which language it could be? For example, in Italian one says non preoccuparti. Which means do not worry (yourself). so i guess it doesn't come from Italian... Does anyone know where it does come from?? thanks Penelope

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  • Possible duplicate of: english.stackexchange.com/questions/112373/…. Nov 11, 2014 at 23:56
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    @JustinGreer The answers in your linked question simply affirm that the phrase is common and accepted, which the OP does not seem to dispute, but say nothing about its origin or rise in popularity.
    – choster
    Nov 12, 2014 at 0:00
  • Isn't it just a shortened form of a common construction? eg 'She said not to wait for her, she'd follow on later' or 'He said not to drive the car until he'd fixed the brakes'.
    – Mynamite
    Nov 12, 2014 at 0:09
  • Could it have Eastern European roots? I always associate the phrase with an anecdote I heard in my youth. A Czech art historian teaching at an American university was in the unfinished attic of his rooming house, catching live flies for his little boy's chameleon, and accidentally stepped between joists so that his legs burst through and dangled from his landlady's bedroom ceiling. She was in bed and screamed, but he called down to her, "Not to worry! It is only Mojmir from downstairs!" Nov 12, 2014 at 0:48
  • I think that German, for example, uses a verb's infinitive as an imperative: e.g. "Nicht Rauchen" ("not to smoke", whereas English would say "no smoking" or "don't smoke").
    – ChrisW
    Nov 12, 2014 at 2:05

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For what it’s worth: OED (subscription on-line version) s.v. “not”:

(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 onwards.
In early use preceded by please.
1790 T. Holcroft German Hotel ii. 17 Rum. So early! Will. In less than an hour; make haste. Rum. Please not to be in a hurry.
1872 ‘G. Eliot’ Middlemarch II. iv. xxxvii. 258 And he objects to a secretary: please not to mention that again.
1958 Daily Mail 24 July 6/5 Not to worry. By the time he . . . had finished with me . . . I’d be doing long division.
1965 L. Meynell Double Fault i. iii. 31 ‘We'll send it for you.’ ‘Not to bother. I'm going down to the country this evening.’
1995 G. Drabinsky Closer to Sun xviii. 363 Vineberg said, ‘Not to worry. It's a lead-pipe cinch.’

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English is a Germanic language, and as such has many similarities with German and the Norse languages (Swedish, Norwegian and Danish mainly.) Some similarities may have disappeared over time, as English has spread across the globe and become influenced by totally different languages, and some may have appeared more recently. This specific expression sounds very much like the Swedish (my native language) expression "Ingen fara" or "Inget att oroa sig för". These are the exact same type of negation, however they are shortened forms of "Det är ingen fara" and "Det är ingenting att oroa sig för" respectively. Reasonable translations wold be "You needn't worry" or "There is nothing to worry about" respectively.

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Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, fifth edition (1961) has this entry for the expression:

not to worry! Don't worry; there's nothing to worry about: Services'; C. 20. Suddenly, in 1957–8, it began to be generally and widely used. The Services base it upon a Maltese analogy; Italian scholars (and others) on, e.g., Italian non tormentarsi; I suggest that it merely truncates 'You are not to worry' —You mustn't worry, or There's nothing to worry you.

The eighth edition of A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1984) offers this somewhat revised entry:

not to worry! Don't worry; there's nothing to worry about: Services' > gen[eral] coll[oquial]: since (?) ca. 1935. Prob. merely a truncated version of 'You are not to worry'—in spite of a number of other, more elab[orate] explanations; see esp. [Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, 1977]. In the decade around 1960 it was often qualified by unduly, as not to worry unduly, old boy!

Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995) indicates that as of that date the expression was still primarily British:

not to worry sentence by 1958 There is nothing to worry about | Still chiefly British: Not to worry: I brought plenty of food for everybody

The fourth edition of Dictionary of American Slang (2007), however, drops that characterization:

not to worry sentence There is nothing to worry about : Not to worry: I brought plenty of food for everybody (1958+)

And Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013) addresses the expression as part of a longer entry on "no problem":

no problem. Also, no sweat; not to worry. There's no difficulty about this, don't concern yourself. ... The third [of these colloquial terms, namely, "not to worry"], originating in Britain in the 1930s and using not to in the sense of "don't," crossed the Atlantic in the 1970s.

It seems, then, that "not to worry" as a standalone or complete-sentence expression emerged in British English by the middle 1930s, enjoyed a major upsurge in popular usage in the UK in 1957–1958, and caught on in Canada and the United States during the 1970s.

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HERE it is claimed that "Not to worry" is from Yiddish "Nit gedeiget".

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I have always heard this phrase referred to as an Irish expression. Mostly I have heard this phrase spoken - by family, friends and business associates. Sometimes I have read it. So I cannot offer any etymological references - just anecdotal. Being Irish-American, and somewhat familiar with the Irish temperament, this expression is a suitable patch in the soft and brilliant quilt of their culture.

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