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Have it in for

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 12, 2009 at 17:50

In Reply to: Have it in for posted by Norman on July 12, 2009 at 07:30:

: "She has it in for me." I know the meaning... anyone know where it comes from? Doesn't really make much sense.

If it doesn’t make much sense, then it’s probably good idiomatic English. The crux of this question may be: what is “it”?

A partial answer is in the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v Have,14. d.: to have it: to receive (or have received) a drubbing, thrashing, punishment, reprimand; to let one have it, to ‘give it’ one. colloq.

[exx.] 1592 SHAKES. Rom. & Jul. III. i. 112 They haue made wormes meat of me; I haue it, and soundly. 1816 BYRON Ch. Har., Notes to IV. cxlii, When one gladiator wounded another, he shouted ‘he has it’, ‘hoc habet,’ or ‘habet.’ 1848 G. F. RUXTON Life in Far West 8 (Farmer), I ups..and let one Injun have it, as was going plum into the boy with his lance. 1891 ‘L. MALET’ Wages of Sin II. 102 If she catches him she'll let him have it hot. . . .

(You may object to the tone of Mr. Ruxton’s contribution; I object more to the use of “let” instead of “lets.”)

More specifically, s.v. OED, Have, 14. f.: to have it in for: to have something unpleasant in store for; to have a grudge against or dislike for (app. modelled on to be in for: see IN adv. 8).

[exx.] 1849 ‘A. HARRIS’ Emigrant Family II. vi. 122 In consequence of a former disagreement, the speaker already ‘had it in for him’ whenever a drinking bout should afford opportunity for the said ‘it’ becoming a transferable possession. 1888 ‘R. BOLDREWOOD’ Robbery under Arms II. xviii. 283 He ‘had it in’ for more than one of the people who helped the police. 1927 Daily Mirror 10 Dec. 2/1 If it was not for the prejudice of a certain detective-sergeant who has had it in for me since I left the police force, I should be found not guilty. 1927 WODEHOUSE Meet Mr. Mulliner iii. 92, I have had it in for that dog since the second Sunday before Septuagesima. . . .

It’s certainly worth looking at “IN adv. 8"

[OED, v. In, adv., 8] “ a. †(a) Involved or engaged in some business or occupation for a specified time. (b) Involved in some coming event, etc. from which no escape is possible; finally committed or destined to do or suffer something.”

[exx.] . . .1773 GOLDSM. Stoops to Conq. IV, I was in for a list of blunders. 1835 Fraser's Mag. XI. 21 We are in for a speech. 1889 Repent. P. Wentworth I. xiv. 285 We are in for a pretty severe storm.

b. esp. in phrase in for it: Committed to a course of action; also, certain to meet with punishment or something unpleasant.
1698 FARQUHAR Love and a Bottle III. i, I've thrown my cast, and am fairly in for't. But an't I an impudent dog? c1730 BURT Lett. N. Scotl. I. 91 As I am in for't I must now proceed. 1741 RICHARDSON Pamela II. 99, I am in for it now, over Head and Ears, I doubt, and can't help loving him. . . .

So, “it” is likely to be punishment or something unpleasant, especiallly in the phrases “be in for it” or “have it in for.” As for the “in for,” I can’t improve on the OED’s “in store for.”

I don’t know if this is a satisfactory explanation, but sometimes idiomatic phrases are difficult to explain.