Where did the phrase pay a visit come from?

Sometimes I hear instances of conversations like

I paid a visit to the local cemetery to see my granddad's tombstone/grave

or something like that. Normally, I don't think you'd pay to go through a cemetery, but, oh well.


Pay has long been used in contexts other than monetary, and there is nothing in the word’s etymology to restrict it in such a way. The earliest use in reference to a visit seems to be in Shakespeare’s ‘Winter’s Tale’:

I thinke, this comming Summer, the King of Sicilia meanes to pay Bohemia the Visitation, which hee iustly owes him.

In the same century we find:

I went‥to pay hir a visit.

In the UK, at least, pay a visit can, in the right context, mean ‘go to the lavatory’ (or bathroom in American English).


I paid a visit to the cemetery to pay respect to the good man that had died, but nobody paid attention and I left unnoticed.

As you can see, "pay a visit" is not the only case where the verb is not related to payment or compensation as in the monetary sense. In all three usages above, its meaning is closer to give or offer instead.

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