February 15, 2008

Making due

Noah Shachtman, "Air Force: $144 Billion a Year Not Enough", Wired, 2/11/2008:

The Air Force can't make due on $144 billion a year. The service is telling Congress it needs nearly another $19 billion for fiscal year 2009 -- including about $1.7 billion worth of extra fighter jets. 

As Arnold Zwicky notes in the Eggcorn Database's entry,

The idiom "make do" is pretty opaque, and I guess that "due" provides some sense of obligation to the expression.

Today's Google News gives 107 hits for {"make due"} compared to 1,599 for {"make do"}, for a ratio of about 16/1 for the original to the eggcorn. General web search yields 425K vs. 3.24M, for a ratio of 7.6/1. And some people say that copy editors don't due their job!

Checking the OED for the origins of "make do", I find that it seems to have originated as make <something> do , with do used in the sense of "suffice", as in "it will do" -- at least, the earliest citation given is

[1847 C. BRONTË Jane Eyre I. viii. 130 ‘Oh, very well!’ returned Miss Temple; ‘we must make it do, Barbara, I suppose.’]

Checking LION, I find another example where the thing that is made to do is also explicit, but at a distance -- from Maria Edgworth, Patronage (1814):

"My dear," said Mrs. Falconer, looking carelessly at the dress--- "You won't want a very expensive dress for Zara.---"

"Indeed, Ma'am, I shall," cried Georgiana--- "Zara will be nothing, unless she is well dressed."

"Well, my dear, you must manage as well as you can with Lydia Sharpe.---Your last court dress surely she can make do vastly well, with a little alteration to give it a Turkish air."

"Oh! dear me, Ma'am---a little alteration!" cried Lydia, "no alteration upon the face of Heaven's Earth, that I could devise from this till Christmas, would give it a Turkish air.---You don't consider, nor conceive, Ma'am, how skimping these here court trains are now---for say the length might answer, it's length without any manner of breadth you know, Ma'am---Look, Ma'am, a mere strip!---Only two breadths of three quarters bare each---which gives no folds in nature, nor drapery, nor majesty, which, for a Turkish queen, is indispensably requisite, I presume."

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 15, 2008 08:27 AM