LINGUIST List 3.1002

Fri 18 Dec 1992

Sum: Archaic "Go to"

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Allan C. Wechsler, Replies to query: King James Bible "Go to"

Message 1: Replies to query: King James Bible "Go to"

Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1992 12:20-050Replies to query: King James Bible "Go to"
From: Allan C. Wechsler <ACWRIVERSIDE.SCRC.Symbolics.COM>
Subject: Replies to query: King James Bible "Go to"

Thanks to all who replied; you are listed at the end as references.
Here is the information you all sent to me; I have edited it for brevity
without (I hope) wrecking the sense.

The Hebrew behind "go to" is <ha:Ba:h>; the capitalized B is the letter
<bet> without a gemination mark ("dagesh"), so it is pronounced
(classically) as a voiced bilabial fricative (IPA beta) and (in ModH) as
[v]. It means something like "hey, c'mon, hop to it!"; the technical
word for such a thing is "(co)hortative". It's the same word
as in "Hava nagila" ("Let's rejoice") [1,6,8,9,10].

One respondent [10] gave a historical account of <ha:Ba:h>, from a form
of the verb "give", with some speculation on the naturalness of the
semantic shift.

The plural in the passage ("... let _us_ go down ...") is a "plural of
majesty"; God need not be referring to anyone but Herself [1, 9].

In English, the hortative use of "go to!" is well-attested in
Shakespeare and other Elizabethan sources [1, 2, 3, 5, 10].

There are expressions still extant in ModE, which show the same
"spec-less PP"; perhaps these are all historically derived by eliding
the object of the preposition. Examples include "come/bring to
[consciousness]", "turn to [one's work]", "set to [work]", "wrong end to
[some surface or direction]", "come to [the wind]" (a technical term in
sailing), "turn in [livestock into a pen, and by extension oneself into
bed]", and "turn in [to law-enforcers]" [1, 5, 7]. No one speculated on
the identity of the putative deleted object in "go to".

An analogous American dialect expression is "go/come with", for standard
"go/come along" [3].

Perhaps "come in" and "come on" are analogous constructions [8] but my
intuition is that the "in" and "on" here are adverbs like "inward" and
"onward". ([8] confesses to not being a native English speaker.)

One respondent [3] read me as making a negative normative judgement
about the usage in KJV; he reminded me that such judgements are
inappropriate, and that grammars do change. I agree.

Perhaps the KJV was translated from Greek, not Hebrew as I implied in my
query [4].

I am left without a clue concerning the evolution of the Elizabethan
hortative "go to". I would also like to know if it was used in other
moods than the imperative; for example, ModE has "she came to
(consciousness)", "I think I'll turn in", and so on.

[1] Geoff Nathan <GA3662SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU>
[2] Susan "no chive" Fischer <SDFNCRRITVAX.ISC.RIT.EDU>
[3] Robert Wachal <Robert-WachalUIOWA.EDU>
[4] Ellen F. Prince <EllenCENTRAL.CIS.UPENN.EDU>
[5] Bruce E. Nevin <BNevinCCB.BBN.COM>
[6] Alice Faber <Faber%LENNYVENUS.YCC.YALE.EDU>
[8] Carel Fenijn <Carel.FenijnLET.RUU.NL>
[10] Robert D. Hoberman <RHobermanCCMAIL.SUNYSB.EDU>
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue