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I first learned of “drop on by” in this news article, 2012, by Spectrum News, Texas.

“Armstrong hits pool for Longhorn Aquatics event. Longhorn Aquatics was hosting its New Year's Classic, and Lance Armstrong decided to drop on by and hop in the pool. The seven-time Tour de France champ swam in one of the 500 free heats, and going up against kids more than half his age, he looked much slower than he did all those years on a bike.”

What is the difference between drop on by and drop by? What is the meaning of on here?

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    I suspect that we get it by evolution from "come on over". – JeffSahol Jan 24 '12 at 2:44
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    Isn't asking such a question a good chance for us to be aware of the regional difference if any? – Tim Jan 24 '12 at 3:41
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    So, @FumbleFingers, "too localized" means "unlikely to ever help any future visitors; only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation...", while "too localised" means "applies to American English"? We need a new choice in the vote to close box :). – JeffSahol Jan 24 '12 at 13:57
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    In a great song called "Come On In," Jerry Lee Lewis uses the extra "on" to convey a Southern-fried country welcome. (Lewis was from Louisiana.) Other people from points north and south sometimes use "right" in comparable sentence locations—as in the Rooftop Singers' lyric, "Walk right in, sit right down, Daddy, let your mind roll on." But for a world-class bittersweet offer to reconcile, you can't beat Jerry Lee's: "If you can still say you love me after tellin' those lies, come on in, come on in!" – Sven Yargs Jun 5 '18 at 2:48
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    @SvenYargs, I was also reminded of "Walk right in". That was composed in 1929 by Gus Cannon. It's here: youtube.com/watch?v=_4mGH_3lzhw and here: youtube.com/watch?v=mm2YfaUeuAI – Greg Lee Jun 5 '18 at 16:36
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Since no one else came up with a thoroughly researched reply...

I suspect that we get it by evolution from "come on over". The "on" means "forward" or "ahead" literally, but in the phrase it adds encouragement, like you'd use with a dog for example.

  • Why would you choose this answer when the next one is so good?? – Lambie Jun 11 '18 at 17:48
  • @Lambie this answer was posted in 2011, the bounty was set up 6 1/2 years later. – Mari-Lou A Jun 18 '18 at 10:04
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The Invitational On

In the imperative mood, supplementing a phrasal verb with the particle on in familiar, colloquial speech turns the usual command/request into more of an invitation:

Come on by the house. I got something for you.” — Susan Wilson, The Dog Who Saved Me, 2015.

If there is a declarative sentence “*s.o. came on by the house,” it was not uttered within earshot of the Google search engine. The particle on here only has the purpose of blunting the imperative.

Come on over,” which sounded almost the same, and so amiable and smooth, was a way of inviting someone to your house. — Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Leaving Brooklyn, 2011, 68.

Are you cringing at the thought of a white Christmas? Are you dreading the idea of sludgy sidewalks and sub-zero temperatures? Suffer no longer! Just fly on down to sunny South Florida and see how sweet the winter months could be. — Website, Bocaire Country Club, Boca Raton FL.

So, whenever you get finished with your banquet, drop on by. I'll have ’em set up a tab for you. — Old Boyfriends (filmscript), 1979. COHA

Invitational on is a common feature of Southern American speech, including AAVE, which accounts for its use in lyrics and titles in countless popular songs from Rufus-Chaka Khan’s “Stop On By” to “Drop On By” by Laura Bell Bundy (b., Lexington KY). This usage in the imperative, while culturally visible, is not exclusive to the South:

Twice the beer, twice the joy. Drop on by and grab our beers at their current promotional prices. — Mad Bistro Whisky Lounge, Singapore.

Drop on by for Saturday fun! — Headline, Morse Messages, Morse Institute Library Newsletter 2, 4 (Nov. 2016), Natick MA.

Come on by on Saturday morning and kick the weekend off with us! — Kung Fu studio, London UK.

So if you fancy taking TiVo for a test drive or finding out how you can get broadband in as little as 5 hours, come on by and our friendly store team will happily get you sorted. — Virgin Media Store, Doncaster UK

If you live in the area, please come on by to say g’day! — Air purifier manufacturer, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Australia.

Stop on by. We’d love to show you around. — Event venue, Walla Walla WA.

Unlike come by, drop by does have the non-imperative variant drop on by. Contrasting drop on by with drop by and a non-existent *drop on, linguist Bert Capelle calls the particle on “an embellishment.” It would be difficult to argue with this analysis were it not for the difference in register, which your example sentence aims to evoke: with drop by already casually colloquial in every variety of English, drop on by is ignored by dictionaries because it adds a nuance of friendly familiarity beyond a mere dropping by somewhere, and such nuances are impossible to lexicalize.

Fictively Folksy

This nuance is especially transparent in rhetorical contexts that are not necessarily by nature friendly or familiar:

Jenny Greenteeth has dropped on by over at the Flames Rising website. Drop on by and have a swim — if you dare. — Evil Hat Productions.

Both on by and over at are designed to maintain a highly informal, convivial atmosphere on a website run by a small crew of game designers. The linked article stands in as a metonymy for the author, who is depicted as if she just happened to be in the neghborhood, i.e., a physical space, when she happened to drop by over at another website and wrote an article. This, of course, is a metaphorical fiction, but it serves a rhetorical purpose.

The same fiction is maintained by various bloggers and podcasters:

Shanghai Kate dropped on by the studio today and as always it was an honor for her to come through. Shanghai Kate is known to many as America’s Tattoo Godmother. — Skin Design Tattoo (Las Vegas), 9 April 2015.

This month, Palmbomen dropped on by and shared some incredible sonic selections with all of you. — Mixcloud.com

This week Tegan Higginbotham dropped on by! We chatted Sovereign Hill, Girls toilets, Bikram Yoga, Drunk on bread? and Maccas Delivery. — Nath Valvo Podcast (Australia), 19 July 2014.

Unlike the game design site, these are human encounters in three dimensions with spoken language the listener may hear, but the notion that any of these visits were either unplanned or unannounced is absurd. It’s all to set a tone that includes the listener as a familiar friend.

Authentic Language

There are two aspects of dropping by somewhere. A person might be out and about and suddenly decide to go to a particular place, or if the object is to visit a particular person, the visit may be unannounced, but the relationship is such a familiar one, it would not be socially awkward. In authentic language, i.e. when a person’s use of a particular register is natural and unreflected, free of any obvious rhetorical strategy to simulate such a register with all its warm connotations, Capelle’s “embellishment” functions more as an intensifier.

Was with kids in that part of town they were hungry it was post breakfast and nearing end of lunch so we dropped on by… — Trip Advisor review, Tearoom, Falkirk (Scotland).

My partner and I were feeling a bit peckish after our movie and so we decided to drop on by the Yates Street Tap House for a light snack treat and beverage. — Trip Advisor review, Victoria BC.

The on particle accentuates the spontaneity of the decision to go to a particular restaurant, but could just as easily be left out. There is also no way of knowing if the expression is favored by these speakers over the “unembellished” variant.

To make it even more unbelievable I had the entire beach to myself. Not a single soul around for the first couple hours. A boy who lived nearby saw us and dropped on by to have a chat for a short period of time and then low [sic] and behold, the Slovenians turned up again. — Travel blog, native Alaskan.

Wherever the boy is planning to go, he sees the woman on the beach and heads over for a brief conversation. Again, the on intensifies the spontaniety.

I work for a huge state university on its flagship campus. This sometimes might work, but mostly we’re just understaffed and overworked and you would actively make enemies if you just dropped on by someone’s office (which may be located a mile or more away from your own office). — Comment, askamanager.com

Dropping (on) by someone’s office because they have not responded swiftly to an email — especially someone whom one might know only fleetingly or not at all — can “actively make enemies.” It assumes a familiarity that isn’t there.

At some point a staff member dropped on by, but was fine with us using the room to shoot in. We didn’t shoot for long since I didn’t want to press our luck and it was really stuffy in the room. It was a pretty quick shoot, but I felt that a lot of good shots were obtained in that short amount of time. — Kelly Dun, photographer, San Francisco.

Like the boy on the beach, a staff member at this location, seeing the photographer and his model doing a shoot no one knew about, is curious and stops to ask.

Conclusion

The difference between drop by and drop on by is primarily one of register: cultivated as a rhetorical fiction or used authentically by people from the US, Canada, Scotland, and Australia. While there may be regional differences — the writer from Brooklyn seems unfamiliar with the extended phrasal verb — the presence of the expression among speakers from all over the Anglosphere suggests a breadth of usage.

What the on particle does not do is suggest directed motion (“Get on up here”) or further iteration (keep on doing vs. keep doing). Like its near synonym stop by, which also has a non-imperative variant, dropping and stopping are punctual, like an arrival: you don’t drop or stop by until you’re already there.

  • This does a great job of walking through how the use would be meant and received today in many settings ! – Tom22 Jun 5 '18 at 21:58
  • Great stuff.Thanks very much. Please see my comments to Tom's answer (1) regarding the usage by the UK author Graham Greene, which can't be Southern US, and I wonder if it is even folksy or invitational. (2) "come one" as defined by the OED; and especialy extra kudos if you will include the lyric "Scooch on over closer dear/ And I will nibble your ear" from the 2008-ish Jason M'raz song "I'm Yours" – AmE speaker Jun 6 '18 at 3:27
  • Link to the song I mention: (link) thanks.). "Scooch on over here...." M'raz was born in VA or W VA if I recall correctly. – AmE speaker Jun 6 '18 at 3:28
  • @user: Scooch on over fits the “invitational” scheme. I could toss in any number of song lyrics, but those are notoriously tricky for establishing usage patterns. I think I presented enough examples from across the Anglosphere to establish that to drop on by is not exclusively Southern/AAVE or even American. – KarlG Jun 6 '18 at 6:41
  • @user: although I do think the invitational on in phrasal verbs is more frequent in Southern/AAVE, though not exclusive to those dialects. – KarlG Jun 6 '18 at 7:01
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I hope this adds a bit to the discussion - other answers are very good and perhaps better at expressing current meaning.

Emphasis on Process, but also Register, change what is perceived when 'on' is included.

Because of an association with "southern" American language, inserting ‘on’ (move on by, walk on by, come on down/by, drop on in) has a "folksy" feel to it, yet there is still an operative difference in what is suggested with and without "on", even if a subtle one

I found an excerpt from The Traveler's Vade Mecum; or, Instantaneous Letter Writer by Abraham Chittenden Baldwin, dated 1853. - it appears to be a writing ~primer~ attesting to be norms at the time?

enter image description here

It looks like, most commonly, “on” was used in conjunction with “come” when referring to actions to be undertaken, rather than a state of accomplishment.

enter image description here

While these examples are not for “drop” but for “come” (+ not including "by"), I think they suggest that “on” was necessary to convey what we use ”come” alone for today.

“On” was gradually omitted to be more direct result orientated rather than indirectly process orientated as 'come on' indicates in examples like "I shall come on immediately".

I am thinking "on" is more a residual of older patterns than an added affectation. I am unable (yet) to support that this prior usage continued in the American South, while it ~changed~ elsewhere, but this concept gets batted around regularly http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180207-how-americans-preserved-british-english at least in terms of vowel sounds.

Regardless of “who was first”, the “come on down” (etc) does get associated with the American south or the African American speech patterns that other English speaking groups consider informal.

As for difference in what is conveyed, I believe the use of "on" suggests "process that will result in an outcome" over "outcome" alone. Even though it may also have a 'folksy' register to it, there is some poetic difference.


"drop" vs "come" - I am in general agreement with @KarlG 's more complete answer here postulating that "drop" is perhaps a colloquial/slang usage ("Fictively Folksy") yet I'm less sure about his theory about what the "on" adds.

I don't think that the "folksy" use of "drop" instead of "come" changes the use of "on" from those 1850 examples.

Looking briefly at the word "come", that seemingly simple word seems complex for a dictionary to explain: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/come with 6 definitions, and the first few having 4 secondary definitions (i.e. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, ..)

For the most part the definitions make 'come' more about something that has or will come to be "to arrive" or used in past tense, came, to "has arrived".

1.1 Arrive at a specified place.
‘we walked along till we came to a stream’
‘it was very late when she came back’
‘my trunk hasn't come yet’

The imperative "come here" is more about the desired result. (arrive ! ?), but even with their lengthy answer they sparsely address shifts in meaning with all the tenses.

Only the gerund 'is coming" is more active and when active it means "approaching"

1.3 be coming, Approach.

‘someone was coming’ - ‘she heard the train coming’

To me "come on" emphasizes the journey as would 'coming' YET, I believe that "approaching" is not quite synonymous with "coming nearer" (suggests stopping just short?) is different than "coming"

  • "keep on proceeding until you get here" (come on by)

vs

  • "arrive here" (come by)

The first encourages action leading to a result, the second more exclusively the result.


One more example - the iconic hit song by Dionne Warwick from 1964

While supporting our notion that "on" sounds like a colloquialism of the south or African american expressive patterns (Dionne Warwick was an African American artist), the song uses 'on' with 'walk' in a way we can perceive a moment of action rather than just a result desired.

"Walk by" - would be a description of a result

"Walk on by" is more a "keep walking till you are past me" ?

If you see me walking down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by

and later in the song the back up singers chime in "don't stop" after each

Walk on by (don't stop)
Now you really gotta walk on by (don't stop)


Practical Understanding of possible sarcasm and/or warm compliment.

and Lance Armstrong decided to drop on by and hop in the pool.

  • as described in depth in another answer, there is a matter of "familiarity" with the 'folksy' nature using 'on' - there is an almost idiomatic sarcastic use that means something like other idioms "like he owned the place" and a sort of "laconic indifference" - add a layer of Armstrong being from Texas, with another layer of perhaps coastal 'blue state' chauvinism in, and "dropped on by" would at least have a flash of possible ridicule to to it.

  • If we removed any negatives associated with Armstrong's reputation, removed the Texas connection, AND gave the author the benefit of the doubt that they were not using the 'on' ironically *, using 'on' could suggest a more informal and less planned in advance event... "driving down the road, Lance saw a sign, turned right found a parking space and wandered into the event" ? **If not facetious, the 'folksyness' of the 'on' would be more a compliment of "down to earth" and perhaps even suggest they 'visited' rather than merely a 'cameo'.

(* i.e. if famous newscaster Dan Rather uses 'on' we would be less likely to assume it as a slight, as he affects a southern accent naturally - a Wall Street Journal or New York Times reporter does not typically use that colloquialism so regular readers there would assume some jest)

  • Seems to me this usage of come on has its closest parallel not in present day English, but German. The separable prefix verb an-kommen means ‘to arrive’. – KarlG Jun 5 '18 at 17:56
  • The problem with come on by is the lack of attestation in the declarative. And Warwick’s song has been going through my head ever since I saw this question. – KarlG Jun 5 '18 at 19:25
  • @KarlG I eliminated the mention of the German in 'answer' as it was more speculation.. but it was interesting after looking it up that the extra letters in german 'an' have the effect of changing the word to certainly 'arrive' from more ~take a trip and arrive~ (very rough translation and not quite it) - the OPPOSITE of what I am suggesting in English that the extra word 'on' emphasizes more than arrive . Anyway, it was kinda interesting looking into it. – Tom22 Jun 5 '18 at 23:50
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    (1) Love the reference to "walk on by"; great song and great example. (2) I have the feeling that the addition of "on" to such phrases is a dialectal thing (US South); but this wouldn't explain UK author Graham Greene's "Come on over here." (3) If you have access to the OED, you might be inteterested in its entry for come on: (a) "To move or travel onward from or to another specified place, engagement, etc" Examples from at least 1450, and this definition seems to say "come on" basically means "come" but it has the 'on' particle not necessarily expressing anything but motion. – AmE speaker Jun 6 '18 at 3:14
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    OED definition of 'come on' (b) "With adverb of direction, e.g. down, in, round. To move or travel onward in the specified direction." things like come on in, come on out, come on out; (c) imperative "Used to urge a person (or animal) to advance towards or accompany the speaker, or (more generally) to continue or proceed with some action or activity. " So I am just trying to tie in the OED's defintions of "come on" with the usage we are talking about. Maybe come on is the daddy of all the *come/go/drop/etc on (+ adverb) phrases, but I don't know. – AmE speaker Jun 6 '18 at 3:18
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+500

From englishpage.net:

Drop on by:

I'd say that "drop on by" basically means the same as "drop by"; the word "on" explicitly adds the thought (probably redundant) that there will have to be motion, particularly moving forward, involved when doing it. This use of "on" seems most related to the particular meaning of "on" in the two on-line dictionary quotes given at the end of this reply; other common collocations are: go on and come on.

From M-W:

2 a: forward or at a more advanced point in space or time b: in continuance or succession

From Cambridge Dictionary:

on (MOVING FORWARD) adverb in a way which results in forward movement:

You cycle on and I'll meet you there. Move on, please, and let the ambulance through. When you've finished reading it would you pass it on to Paul? They never spoke to each other from that day on (= after that day). What are you doing later on?

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    I have awarded you the bounty because you were the only one to provide references. And on surely does indicate movement. Other answers that posit other meanings, while persuasive, are not ultimately convincing with regard to all relevant uses of on in these types of statements. – AmE speaker Jun 12 '18 at 20:00
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In addition to the "encouragement" aspect @JeffSahol mentions, "drop on by" is slightly more informal than "drop by" (which is itself already fairly informal).

1

Yeah... just for future reference, "on" in this context is an adverb that softens the phrase, so that it has a friendly feel to it, rather than coming across as a command.

You could also use it in:

No, go ahead. Go on over there and play with your friends.

in response to a child asking, "Do you mind if I go over there?"

The "on" makes the command feel gentler: it gives permission, rather than a command. So “come on over” gives someone permission to come over. ("Come over" would be a command).

  • I quite like its simplicity, friendly vs bare command, but without the detailed and supported answers that preceded it, this answer would be less effective. – Mari-Lou A Jun 11 '18 at 7:21
  • Yes but on also has to do with 'movement'. – AmE speaker Jun 12 '18 at 19:56

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