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

  • Possible duplicate of: english.stackexchange.com/questions/112373/…. – Justin Greer Nov 11 '14 at 23:56
  • @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 '14 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 '14 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!" – Brian Donovan Nov 12 '14 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 '14 at 2:05

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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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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