A trend has spread on social media following the many and disturbing allegations of sexual assault and rape against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein: me too, which tens of thousands women are posting to express that they, too, have been assaulted or harassed.
The little word, too, so simply yet powerfully bringing attention to how pervasive, and pernicious, sexual violence against women is. For today’s post, let’s put the etymological spotlight on it.
When “to” gets stressed out
There’s a good reason we confuse the words to and too—and it’s not just because we pronounce them the same. Etymologically, they are the same word, and we didn’t always say them in exactly the same way.
The adverb too, in various meanings of “in addition to” or “in excess,” is simply a stressed form of the preposition to, which does a lot of heavy-lifting in our language.
At its most basic level, to expresses “in the direction of,” and as it multitasked in the earliest days of Old English and other Germanic languages, we can well imagine this reaching to, this heading to—it’s so hard to discuss to without using to—extended to the senses of “furthermore,” “also,” “besides,” and “excessively.” Stressing to showed this emphasis and made this distinction, which over time, was reflected in how we write the word: too. The spelling settled in during the 16th century.
The German zu behaves similarly, and is related to English’s to/too, along with similar words in Germanic and other Indo-European languages.