Q: How did “Here you go” come to mean “Here is the thing you wanted”?
A: “Here you go,” an idiomatic expression that showed up in writing in the 1800s, is a casual way of saying “Here it is” when you give someone something that’s requested.
That’s why an easygoing barista says “here you go” rather than the more formal “here it is” when he hands over your mocha latte.
Like other idioms, “here you go” is not meant literally and doesn’t even make sense on a literal level. But it’s so common that most of us don’t stop to think about it.
We haven’t seen much linguistic scholarship about the expression, though the British linguist Michael Fortescue comments briefly about “here you go” in Semantix, a 2014 book about semantics and pragmatics.
In discussing how the verb “go” has evolved in meaning and usage over the years, he says “here you go” reflects “the gradual historical bleaching of the original motion sense of the verb as it gradually became more grammaticalized.”
Grammaticalization is a process in which lexical terms acquire new grammatical functions over time. In the idiomatic expression “here you go,” Fortescue writes, “there is of course nothing left of any of the original meaning of ‘go’ at all.”
As we’ve said, “here you go” has been used in writing since the 19th century to mean “here it is.” In searches of newspaper databases, the earliest example we’ve found is from a short story in the Dec. 25, 1879, issue of the Door County Advocate in Sturgeon Bay, WI.:
“ ‘You’ve both won the heat, race, and money. Here you go,’ and he tipped the two lads handsomely.” (The speaker gives the boys, who have tied in a race, a “five-dollar piece” each.)
And this example (from the Oct. 15, 1885, Daily Yellowstone Journal in Montana) is in a joke about an elderly man asking for a light from a child’s cigar:
“Old gentleman, full of fun, to infant of eight summers, who is smoking a cigar—Can I trouble you for a light mister?
“Infant of eight summers—Here you go my boy, but be sure you give me back the right one.”
Since 1900, sightings of “here you go” used in the sense of “here it is” have become much more common.
Cambridge Dictionaries says “here you go” means “this is the object you asked me to give you.” It has this example: “ ‘Would you please pass the sugar?’ ‘Here you go.’ ”
The Macmillan Dictionary and The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English have similar definitions.
Dictionaries also include three similar idiomatic expressions that can be used the same way: “here you are,” “there you go,” and “there you are.”
Some dictionaries label these expressions informal or colloquial. One grammar book, English Grammar Today (2016), by Ronald Carter et al., considers the “go” versions more informal than the “are” ones:
“We can use here you are and there you are (or, in informal situations, here you go and there you go) when giving something to someone. Here and there have the same meaning in this use.”
A more scholarly grammar book, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, by Randolph Quirk et al., says in a footnote that “here [or there] you are” when used in this sense is equivalent to “this is for you.” (It adds that “there you are” has an additional idiomatic meaning: “That supports or proves what I’ve said.”)
The Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence, doesn’t discuss “here you go” in its entry for the verb “go,” which was revised in 2015 and now includes 603 senses of the word.
However, the OED does refer to the “are” version, saying that “here we [or you] are” can mean “Here is what we [or you] want.” The usage is labeled colloquial.
The dictionary’s only example is from the mid-19th century: “Hum! ha! now let’s see, here we are—the ‘G-i-a-o-u-r’—that’s a nice word to talk about.” (From Frank Fairlegh, an 1850 novel by Francis Edward Smedley. The noun “giaour” is a derogatory term for a non-Muslim.)
In that example, however, there’s no sense of one person presenting another with a physical item, like the barista offering you your coffee.
And the OED defines “there you are” as drawing attention to a completed action (not to a physical thing), or as meaning “What did I tell you?” or “expressing resignation to an unpleasant fact.”