How did "give up" start to mean to quit?

  • Etymology Online says this use dates from the 12th century. – Nathaniel is protesting Nov 2 '15 at 23:26
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    In this particular sense of to give up, the OED only has examples from the 17th century: 3. intr. To leave off; to cease from effort, leave off trying; to stop. Also, to succumb. a1616 Shakespeare Cymbeline (1623) ii. ii. 46 She hath bin reading late, The Tale of Tereus, heere the leaffe's turn'd downe Where Philomel gaue vp. 1714 Swift Some Free Thoughts upon Present State Affairs (1741) 13 They have been..very near giving up in Despair. – WS2 Nov 2 '15 at 23:30
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/67309/… – Hot Licks Nov 2 '15 at 23:39

"Give up" is almost a word-for-word translation of surrender (sur = over/above/up + render = to give, present), so it seems to be an Anglosaxon version of a French/Latin word. It has been used for much longer 400 years but was probably popularised through its use in the King James Bible:

30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

John 19:30 King James Version (KJV)


In French, we have the word: "se rendre" = to render itself. Implicitly, it is "to render itself to the winner". To let him/her decide about your future. It is close to the meaning "to abandon" if you think that for many religions your daily life is controlled by destiny (to render itself to destiny is likely a very used concept in old books) and other similar concepts.

I suspect that with the tradition of hiding the reflection in English, "se rendre" turned into "to render/give" and the particle "up" was necessary to explicit a specific meaning, as do all phrasal verbs.

Note also that "surrender" is likely to be the pronunciation of "se rendre" by an English teller. Coincidence or I think not.

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    Interesting, but do you have anything to back it up? – marcellothearcane Sep 16 '17 at 20:49

Give up is also word to word equivelant of German aufgeben (auf = up, geben = give).

My guess is that in old times, people who didn't make any more active actions in pursuit of their interest, gave the matter up to the deity up above in the sky (i.e. god).

With time the original meaning of giving it to someone/something else was forgotten, and it came to mean only the part of stop actively trying to do something by yourself.

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