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So I'm currently reading a book from the 1930s (Lost Horizon), where some language conventions are quite different than the language conventions I am used to today.

One thing piqued my interest: The words "today" and "tomorrow" are written as "to-day" and "to-morrow". This immediately made me wonder where exactly those words came from.

I could make sense of "to-morrow" pretty quickly after seeing the definition of "morrow" in the dictionary:

  • archaic: MORNING
  • the next day
  • the time immediately after a specified event

However, "to-day" makes little to no sense to me:

The dictionary states that "day" roughly means "the time of light between one night and the next."

If we go by that definition, "to-day" or "today" roughly means "by day" and doesn't specify the day like "to-morrow" or "tomorrow" do.

Is there an explanation why that is?

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  • Morrow (or its older forms) originally simply meant "morning" (mostly in Old English compounds according to the OED) with the sense "the day after today" coming later. So it's the same issue.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 9 at 8:58
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"To-day" comes from Old English and means "on the day" similarly to how "to-morrow" means "on the morning". You will also see "On the morrow" in older writing.

today [alternative forms: to-day (archaic)]

Etymology

Via Middle English today, from Old English tōdæġ, tō dæġe (“on [the] day”), made from tō (“at, on”) + dæġe, the dative of dæġ (“day”).

[Wiktionary]

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  • 1
    1) That site (Wiktionary) seems to have copied directly from etymonline without attribution - etymonline has ostensibly given attribution somewhere to the OED for that data. 2) This answer, while helpfully giving former versions of 'today', is in no way actually addressing the OP's question of why 'to', since the ostensible meaning of 'to' doesn't make literal sense. Why is 'today' instead of say 'this-day' or why didn't we keep 'on the day' which also doesn't make literal sense?
    – Mitch
    Sep 8 at 23:22
  • Thank you for your answer, however, I even stated in my question, that "today" roughly means "by day". So your answer doesn't answer my question, at least not the entire question.
    – gurkensaas
    Sep 9 at 5:29
  • @gurkensaas The quotes in "by day" was added very recently, with the edit it is clearer. Besides, I feel that "by day" is ambiguous, I'm not sure what you mean by it. To do something by a certain day refers to a deadline, e.g. Do this by Monday. To get something "by (the) day" could refer to the amount of time allocated, e.g. I'm paid by the day. It could also indicate the passage of time, e.g. The day went by...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 9 at 5:54
  • My answer boils down to: it's from Old English. I wonder if deeper etymological questions can even be answered. It seems that the Middle English version (in the same link) already meant the current day. I wonder if this can be compared to "within the hour" being commonly understood to mean the current period with no other context.
    – dubious
    Sep 9 at 7:17

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