General Question

janbb's avatar

When did the usage "will do" come into American usage?

Asked by janbb (43722 points ) 2 months ago

As opposed to “will do it” or “I will do it.” I’ve heard that usage in English English for donkey’s years but it seems like my American friends have started using it recently. Anyone else notice this?

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7 Answers

dappled_leaves's avatar

Hm. I wouldn’t have thought this was a UK -> US phrase; I actually thought the opposite. But linguist Geoffrey Nunberg calls it a Britishism, so I guess he must be right. That article was written in 2012, and his annoyance sounds pretty fresh, so has it not been in use for very long there? Or perhaps he always sounds freshly annoyed.

When I looked up the word “will” in the OED, I found their first example of “Will do” dated 1955:

1955 W. Tucker Wild Talent xvi. 217 ‘Paul! Bring my gate pass.’.. ‘Will do.’

But they also link the related military term “wilco,” a portmanteau for “will comply.” There is certainly a military feel about “will do” as well. The earliest citation for wilco is earlier than 1955:

1946 F. Hamann Air Words 56 Willco, will comply; will do.

So I suspect that “will do” sprang from that. But when it entered American usage (your actual question) might be very difficult to determine. It’s a difficult phrase to thrown into an ngram, for example, because it would have been used in many contexts that are different from the one that you are asking about.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

Anecdotally, I’ve heard it used for most of my life, that I can remember. I grew up in the US in the 50’s.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I suspect that it probably has military origins. It sounds like a reply to a military dispatch or telegraph message.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Laziness? I mean that’s what it is for me at least. Why write a whole sentence when I can write two words that convey exactly the same message?

JLeslie's avatar

I would have guessed it is short for “I will do it.” The way Chicago says, “come with,” rather than “come with me.” Now, “come with” has caught on in more places than Chicago and surrounding areas.

It doesn’t surprise me it might have military origins though. We have so many of those, snafu, fubb, facilities, slush fund, face the music, deadline. I know there are others, but they fail to come to me right now.

rojo's avatar

I catch grief for using the terms “could do”, “would do” and “should do” as well as will do.

janbb's avatar

@rojo I’ve heard all of them in England for years too but not so much over here.

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