What does "to cave to" mean? An example sentence I read about is:

They can continue to implement the successful non-lethal model that has helped Oregon's gray wolf population grow - while also decreasing conflicts with livestock. Or they can cave to special interests and declare that a species with less than 100 individuals in the state doesn't need protections.

I can of course guess what it mean, probably to concede to, to give in etc. Which of "cave"'s meanings in OED apply to this usage?


Here is an Ngram chart of "caved to" (blue line) versus "caved in to" (red line) for the years 1800ā€“2005:

The most surprising thing to me is how recently "caved in to" took off in popularity (around 1960). The allied expression "caved to" has enjoyed its own upsurge in usage (starting around 1995), but it remains far les common than "caved in to."

As for the idiomatic meaning of the phrase, it is identical in both versions: to have one's opposition to something collapse, as if it were an underground tunnel dug through soft dirt or unstable rock. Here is one example from each form of the phrase. From "The Journey of Maryam Mursal," in [The New Crisis] (July 1998):

Eventually, Barre caved to political pressure and lifted the ban on her music, even giving her a house as compensation. However, instead of the obsequious appreciation he expected, Barre met a proud and defiant Mursal.

And from Gerald Graff, "Self-Interview," in Confessions of the Critics (1996):

A recent case in point is the celebrated battle over the "Cultures, Ideas, and Values" requirement at Stanford [University], which was "resolved" by creating eparate course-tracks for traditionalists and revisionists so that no communication nee take place between the two. When Stanford revised the requirement it was widely reviled by conservatives like William J. Bennett for caving in to pressure from multiculturalists and other insurgent groups. But if Stanford "caved in" to pressure, it caved in to pressure from all the factions involved, including the conservatives.

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  • Are they completely the same in meaning, though? I feel like caving is more utter and complete surrender, whereas caving in is more gradual yielding, possibly giving in part of the way but maintaining some level of compromise. Or maybe Iā€™m just extrapolating that nuance from ā€œI cave!ā€, where it means to give up entirely and roll over on your back? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 10 '15 at 8:52
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: It's always possible that, in alternative wordings that seem to me to have identical meanings, there is some difference in nuance or sense that has escaped me. Perhaps the best way to establish that such a difference exists is to find people who use both expressions (at different times), choosing between them depending on the precise meaning intended. I have occasionally used "caved in to" but never "caved to" because to me they are simply variants and I prefer the former to the latter. I would be interested to hear if others see the distinction you do. – Sven Yargs Jun 10 '15 at 17:10

Being British, I would use the phrasal verb to cave in to, but either way the intended meaning is that described in the Oxford Dictionaries site as

Yield or submit under pressure

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    This is right. Informally, you can omit the "in," in US English at least. – Maverick Jun 10 '15 at 5:38

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