The English Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of the word 'until' lists the following as its etymology:

Middle English: from Old Norse und 'as far as' + till (the sense thus duplicated)

Etymonline similarly states:

c.1200, from O.N. und "as far as, up to" (related to O.E. end; see end) + till "until, up to".

Looking at the two entries, it seems that until is made up of two roots which mean the same thing, rendering the word something of a tautology ('up to up to'). Or does it? Etymonline also states that it is related to the word end which would effectively make the etymology of until mean, 'up to the end'. This makes some sort of sense.

The OED (online), however, does not list until as being related to end. Moreover, Etymonline does not mention und in its entry for end either, which makes things a little confusing.

So, is until something of a tautology? If so, is it unique in this aspect?

  • 2
    It may be that und is Old Norse for "as far as" but till still exists in Swedish for to; so until could be analysed as "all the way to". But I would have thought the OED could have done that.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 4, 2012 at 21:26
  • 6
    I don't think tautology is the right word here, more like redundant. Aug 4, 2012 at 21:57
  • 1
    Interesting question. To answer it, I think we’d need to see how und, till, and und+till = until were all used. If all are distinct, then it’s probably not a tautology; but there may be substantial overlap. (Unfortunately, Old Norse isn’t a language I have any experience with.) Aug 4, 2012 at 21:58
  • @PeterOlson A tautology is, by definition, redundant. So is pleonasm. Aug 5, 2012 at 6:13
  • 1
    Quagmire has overtones of tautology (bog bog). Jul 20, 2015 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


It may have been perceived as redundant by some in the 13th century (but I've seen no evidence of that). It's certainly not redundant now, and to impute redundancy to it is an instance of the etymological fallacy.

Since it's originally a northern term, I'd guess that it represented a conflation of the terms used by two interpenetrating speech communities, the ON and OE.


Maybe this is true, but it is equally true that most English speakers don't know Old Norse, so while its etymology may be redundant, its current usage is not.

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