2

"something to him/her/it"

Google Books (to him):

Google Books (to her):

Google Books (to it):

The phrase meaning "there's something (with respect to/about) him/her/it (that is observable/noticeable)" - my own attempted definition, since I can't find a specific dictionary entry for this idiomatic expression.

"(there's) nothing to it"

The American Heritage® Idioms

It's not at all difficult, it's easy, as in Of course I can fix the faucet—there's nothing to it. This hyperbolic term was first recorded in 1934.

...

Another possible phrase:

"there's nothing to him/her/it"

Google Books (to him):

Google Books (to her):

Google Books (to it):

meaning "He/she/it has no redeeming qualities." or it can also mean that the person in question is really skinny or small.

There's also a completely different sense of "nothing to it", where it means "there is nothing about this that is believable or credible" as evidenced by this corpus search:

enter image description here

In another sense, it's used to indicate there being nothing serious (or to be taken seriously) about the subject in question:

Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel

enter image description here

So as you can see it seems to be a very versatile phrase.


Now prepositions have been used in odd ways in idioms, such as "I will have nothing of it" but at least in this case "of" is used syntactically correctly, indicating possessive "it". Or in the case of "see eye to eye with", used in the sense of "from that point of reference to that point of reference". But in the examples above they seem to make little sense.

I suppose it can mean "with respect to" or "about" in the first idiom, but that isn't a standard definition; at least I can't find it as one: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/to?s=t

In the second idiom, it's even tougher to figure out what role it's serving. Perhaps as an implied: There's nothing (hard) (about) it. And yet even with this paraphrase something inherent about "it" is not being accounted for, for whatever reason, that (with respect to/about) don't quite manage to capture.


My questions are:

What is the exact origin of these phrases?

What role is "to" serving in them?

  • There's more variation to (!) prepositions than dictionaries could possibly describe—but this use is common enough that I'm surprised it's not mentioned in ODO. I don't think there's much chance of finding the origins of this use, though. It's simply one of the unreducible, core senses of the preposition itself. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '16 at 21:12
  • I think that "to" here is just an extension and figurative usage of its first definition in the link you are providing, that is, "in the direction of", "towards" suggesting a relation with the object. – user66974 Jul 23 '16 at 21:46
  • There is nothing to it is probably one of the most idiomatic phrases with the construction you are referring to. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/There's+nothing+to+it - According to Ngram, its usage is from the late 19th century. books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Jul 23 '16 at 21:52
  • "There is something to her" and "there is something to him" do not seem common or familiar enough to be considered stock idioms. I found it hard to find examples even given your links. In my own dialect they sound a bit off. I might add a note that they are non-standard, if, in fact, they are. Anyway, I like your question. +1 – GoldenGremlin Jul 24 '16 at 0:49
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    There is nothing to it, meaning it is easy, could perhaps be seen as a short way of saying that there is nothing (or little) to doing it, i.e., not a lot needs to be done to do it (accomplish it, make it, carry it out). Just a guess that this could belong to its evolution. Similarly, of course, "there is a lot to it" - there is a lot to consider about it. – Drew Jul 24 '16 at 1:10
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It may not be a verb but a noun that is understood: Value.

There's something to it = There's some value to it. There's something to that idea (in that it is valuable).

There's nothing to it = There's no value to it. Nothing to it (in that it's no trouble, there's no value to the effort), Oh, you're welcome, it's nothing. De rien. De nada. Al lo davar.

Here is a paraphrase of the quote, substituting no value to it for nothing to it:

Emma, that is Lady Hamilton, and I are no more than friends. There’s no value to it (the 'relationship' rumor).

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    Rather than rephrasing the more verbose sentence, can this not be a straight omission of "There is something [that can be attributed] to him"? This seems to work in every example that is presented, and it forgoes the need to rephrase, it only omits. – Flater Jul 28 '17 at 12:38
  • @Flater makes a good point. – Yosef Baskin Jul 28 '17 at 13:43

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