In Reply to: Pull it to posted by David FG on September 14, 2008 at 08:08:
: : : : : : PULL IT TO - this is a phrase we often use when describing how much to shut a door by. It has recently caused us to ask where does the phrase originate from, after all we all know how much to pull a door to!
: : : : : Obviously when you pull a door to, you pull it until it is closed or nearly so. The Oxford English Dictionary gives numerous examples from 1673 on, including some in which it is not a door that is pulled to, e.g., "895 J. M. FALKNER Lost Stradivarius xii. 188 He set down his mandoline and left the room, pulling to the curtain and shutting a door behind it." In another example it is shutters that are pulled to.
: : : : : The OED does not speculate about the grammatical logic behind the phrase.
: : : : : SS
: : : : "Pull it to" must be British. I never hear it in the U.S. ~rb
: : : I've heard it -- West Virginia/Kentucky.
: : If memory serves, which it rarely does very precisely, "pull the door to" is/was used when it was either not necessary or not possible to latch the door, or close it securely. Down on the farm it happened not infrequently that you wanted the door closed far enough to deter animals from escaping, but not necessarily locked or latched. I'm guessing that it is possible that "to" in this case means to the door-frame.
: : In the case of the curtains, I believe there is typically no "latch" or similar closure. In the case of the shutters, I imagine you "pull them to" by pulling them over the windows, but without necessarily locking them in place with the hook-and-eye closure that I believe is normal. (I could be very wrong.)
: : If there were such a thing as an average or typical user of the phrase, I would like to ask him if the expression "pull the door to" would be used if you wished or intended it to be latched. I expect not. In that case, you would say, "shut the door."
: : In any case, it was not a rare expression in my youth over here in the New World.
: I am not sure how 'average' or 'typical' I am, but if someone asked me to 'pull the door to', I would indeed understand them to mean pull it shut without engaging the lock or latch.
Thank you, David. Unfortunately, I'm having second thoughts, and I can easily believe that in many situations, pulling the door to would mean pulling it into the locked position. I've been thinking about it especially today, as my wife is in charge of a department which just got new quarters. New employees have to be instructed in how to close and lock the department when they leave. If they pull the door shut, or if they "pull the door to," the door automatically locks. My second thoughts may be superfluous and wrong, however. What my wife actually tells new employees is "Shut the door when you leave, and make sure it's locked."