How come you native English speakers began to use 'how come...?' to ask why? I'm interested in the origin of the phrase 'how come...?' because it is a little away from usual English grammar. Not before long I had a talk with other Japanese people over it in a web forum for English learning but didn't get a conclusion. The OED is suggesting this sentence started among American colonialists and it was originally a shortened form of 'how [did it/does it] come (about) that...'. But some Japanese people disagreed to it and argued that it might have the origin in a German phrase 'wie kommt's (dass)..?'. I still don't know which opinion is right. Could anyone give comments on this? Also I'd like to know if there is any difference in usage or/and meaning between 'how come ...' and 'how comes it that...'. Thank you in advance.

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From Gabe:

The phrase how come? has always bothered me. I was thinking it meant, "HOW does it COME to be?" Please help.

That's exactly what how come? means. Surprisingly, it is American in origin, at least in that form. It dates from the middle of the 19th century, and its first recorded form is in Bartlett's Dictionary of American English: "How-come? rapidly pronounced huc-***, in Virginia. Doubtless an English phrase, brought over by the original settlers, and propagated even among the negro slaves. The meaning is, How did what you tell me happen? How came it?"

Its predecessor in England was how comes it that...? That phrase was used by Shakespeare in 1607, in his Coriolanus: "How com’st that you haue holpe To make this rescue?" However, he was not the first to use it; we find it first recorded in 1548 by Hall in Chronicle: "How commeth this that there are so many Newe Testamentes abrode?"

Google: etymology "how come"
You may find even more information.

Thank you CJ for the quick response.

I found the site and other one. Likely this phrase is not related to German.

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Hello Paco, hello CJ

The use of 'come' doesn't seem surprising, with this meaning. But the different forms are interesting. We have:

1. Gabe: 'how come'.
2. Gabe's respondent: 'how came it...'
3. Shakespeare: 'how com'st that...'
4. Hall: 'how commeth this...'

Gabe proposes elliptical 'HOW does it COME to be', to explain the irregular s-less form.

Gabe's respondent sidesteps and switches to the regular 3rd person 'came'.

The Shakespeare quote also uses a regular 3rd person s-form: 'how com'st' = 'how comes it that' (the position of the apostrophe seems authentic, but S. presumably didn't mean 'how comest that').

The Hall quote uses 3rd person 'commeth': regular.

So 2, 3, and 4 still leave us with the mystery of the missing s, while making Gabe's proposal seem less likely. (It would be strange if an elliptical 'how come' had evolved, when a regular 'how comes it' already existed; though not impossible.)

Perhaps those laconic settlers simply dropped the S. Cf 'howdy', 'how do'.

(Has anyone ever studied the influence of tobacco-chewing on early Virginian English, I wonder.)

Hello Mr P
It would be strange if an elliptical 'how come' had evolved
Yes, it is the main point mysterious to me. My guess is the s-less 'how come' was a pidgin English spoken among slaves and the children of the colony owners learned it from their nurses.

pidgin English

You may have something there.

Our two positions: tobacco-pickers vs tobacco-chewers.

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By the nineteenth century, the auxiliary "do" was already universally used in preference to the older SV inversion, so maybe "how come" is not a short version of "how comes it that" but of "how does it come that".

Whether this comment is relevant to your discussion remains to be seen!

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Ah! Good point.
Perhaps it comes from the Dutch "hoekom", which is pronounced remarkably similar to the American "how come", and which means "Why?"

Did we borrow it from the Dutch-speakers in New Amsterdam, perhaps?
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