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My question is straightforward:

  1. What is the etymology of eh?

  2. Could eh in Ich habe eh nichts zu machen be an abbreviation for eher?


(I spelled eh with an h because the e seems to be pronounced longer, more like [eˑ])

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1  
Yes, I did not know what other tags to use. Etymology came to mind, because I am implicitly asking for the origin of the word eh and explicitly asking whether it is related to eher –  macmadness86 May 13 '13 at 12:07
    
Ich habe eh nichts zu tun ----> Ich habe sowieso, ohnehin nichts zu tun ---> colloquially ;) –  user2866 May 14 '13 at 15:48
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The words eh and eher share their origin

mittelhochdeutsch ē(r), althochdeutsch ēr, ursprünglich komparativisches Adverb zu einem Positiv mit der Bedeutung »früh« (vgl. gotisch air = früh) Duden

So, the word ēr, which does not exist anymore, means früh (early). This sense is still enclosed in the primary meaning of eher, namely at an earlier date. The other meanings of eher can chiefly be translated to rather or quite.

Regarding your second question the ultimate answer is 'No'. Eh is no abbreviation for eher and, furthermore, fulfills a completely different function. Its usage is colloquial, in the sense of anyway. For that reason, you can translate that sentence like this:

There's nothing to do, anyway.

Without any context, however, it's hard to say if you should use eh or eher. I could think of a couple of situations where this sentence is fine with eher although the sentence will likely be slightly modified.

War dein Tag anstrengend? Hast du alle Aufgaben erledigt bekommen?

Ne, alles kein Problem. Ich hatte heute eher nichts zu machen.

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No. I would like to think that the "eh" here means "ohnehin". That is:

"Ich habe eh nichts zu tun." <-> "Ich habe ohnehin nichts zu tun."

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eh = ohnehin. That is a good start. I am looking for more information. Why is it ohnehin? How does one come from ohnehin > eh? To be fair, I changed the question and gave you 1+. –  macmadness86 May 14 '13 at 10:26
    
Sorry. I see the tag. I don't have any clue where it comes from. –  Martin May 14 '13 at 11:25
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No:

eher means a trend / tendency to

eh means anyway

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You have defined them. I already know the definitions. I am looking for reasons for their definitions. In many cases, words develop from other words. To be fair, I changed the question and gave you 1+. –  macmadness86 May 14 '13 at 10:28
    
okey, unfortunatly i dont know where this comes from, its just there, and i guess it isnt really necessary to know the etymology ;) –  Postback May 14 '13 at 11:00
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