What is the origin of the phrase "to see it through"? How early was it invented? Would it sound out of place in an attempt to emulate older (200–400 years older) English?

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    The OED has two mid-nineteenth century citations for ‘see it through the press’. There’s a third, from 1900, which reads ‘I had taken on a task, and I was bound to see it through.’ These, however, do not give a guarantee of first use. – Barrie England Nov 6 '11 at 13:59

Q: Would it sound out of place in an attempt to emulate older (200–400 years older) English?

Yes, the words "see it through" are very rare before 1800 in any meaning:


There may have been an earlier way of expressing this with different words.

The Ngram doesn't discriminate between meanings, and includes lots of results for "see it through [some medium]", such as "... see it through thy tears", "... they cannot see it through your spectacles", "... see it through that aperture", "for we see it through a glass darkly".

Q: What is the origin of the phrase to "to see it through"?

The concept will be much earlier, but with this exact "see it through" wording, the oldest I found for the meaning "to continue with something until the end" is in a possible use from 1726's A Further Answer, Being a True Representation of Mr. Worger's Case by Dr. John Gray:

that he detefts the Man, and wou'dhave nothing to do with him} that in this Cafe his Honour is concem'd, and he will fee it through, and. perhaps make a farther Enquiry into his Trepans

From the 1776 Parliamentary Register; Or, History Of The Proceedings And Debates Of The House Of Commons:

and at a time when this country was determined not to give it up : as he engaged when this dispute was actually begun, he was bound to see it through ; and if the colonies, by appealing to arms had made war the medium, although peace was the only point he ever retained in his view, he must pursue it through that medium

This is interesting. It discusses a man determined not to give up a dispute, but "he was bound to see it through" the medium of war. There are several other "see it through the [constitutional/proper/false/war] medium" around this time, but this one mixes determination to complete with the medium he must use to finish it. But still, it's "seeing through a medium".

Here's another interesting find from 1833's The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry, which may or may not show the root:

And if this he a sorrow, surely it may well be reckoned sorrow upon sorrow, when those arc taken away by death, in whom so much of serious piety was kept up, and by whose means we might hope to see it, through the grace of God, in some measure revived.

The first clear use is in an 1836 letter in The Monthly magazine, or, British register, Volume 22:

 I was then only just recovered from the fever; but I have now determined to remain to the end of the war, and to see it through.

There's some similar uses in 1838, and again, 1839, 1847 and 1848, around which time the usage picks up, as the Ngram suggests.

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    The seemingly related expression "see it out" seems a little older; here is a 1792 use: "perhaps he may think it worth his while to stay and ſee it out, and save the Dissenters the expence and trouble of going with him" – Peter Shor Nov 6 '11 at 20:10
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    And from 1753: "But however uncomfortable my situation may be, I am determined to give my existence fair play, and to see it out to the last act. You need therefore be under no apprehensions of my dying suddenly." – Peter Shor Nov 6 '11 at 20:17
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    Perhaps either of these show a possible root (as the Matthew Henry example above)—one from 1658 and one from 1673. In any case, I think you have answered my question satisfactorily. Thank you for your research! – zpletan Nov 8 '11 at 3:49

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