In Reply to: Re: Love to death posted by ESC on August 17, 2010 at 09:26:
: : : The phrase - I love him to death - or I love her to death, etc. Origin?
: : Surely it's just a shortening of 'I (will) love her to (my) death'
: In my West Virginia childhood, I heard the expression "wool a kitten to death." Petting and handling a kitten until it died. Maybe there is a connection.
The phrase “to death” originally meant (and of course sometimes still does) “[so as] to [cause] death”. People and animals froze and starved to death, were hunted, worked and frightened to death. Eventually the phrase was extended to a hyperbolic use meaning “to an excessive and distressing degree”, as in “I was worried to death!” “I’m sick to death of it!”
At some point somebody thought it amusing and mildly paradoxical to extend this figurative use to something delightful, which gets you “love someone to death”. This became so commonplace that now it’s a cliché for newspaper journalists, when covering a story about – say – obese pets, that these animals’ owners are “loving them to death” . This is not the origin of the phrase, however. (VSD)