Go-to. It’s become a very popular term, one we have all probably heard, particularly if we talk business or watch sports. Its adoption happened quite rapidly, as many “new” terms do, but its origins reach deep into our past.

As explained in his New York Times Magazine article “Go-To!,” William Safire traces the origin of the expression to William Shakespeare’s classic, “Macbeth,” writing:

The sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, obsessively trying to wash her hands of imaginary blood, is observed by a Doctor of Physic and a horrified Waiting-Gentle-Woman. As Shakespeare's most famous villainess cries, "Out, damned spot!" the doctor whispers a warning to his fellow witness: "Go to, go to; you have known what you should not."

The meaning of the imperative go to, four centuries ago, was "beat it," now "geddoutahere" or, as those who cherish archaisms still say, "get thee hence." In our time, those two short words have fused into a compound adjective with a wholly different meaning, and that modifier is sweeping the language.

“Out, damned spot!”

And in our time, go-to has come to be defined as “a person or thing that may be relied on or is regularly sought out in a particular situation.” It’s not difficult to see how the term came about—the person or thing you “go to” when you need it.

It is quite common to hear a coach or manager talk of a player as who you go to when you need a hit, a goal, or a touchdown. In fact, Safire traced the earliest use of go-to, in its modern state, to a sports reference:

The earliest use I can find is in the April 5, 1985, Washington Post, when William Gildea, a staff writer, quoted the basketball coach John Wood of the Springairn Green Wave about his star, Sherman Douglas: "In a close game, we knew who to go to. When a game gets tough, you don't have to tell one guy to shoot and another guy not to shoot. They go to the person who gets the job done, and on our team Sherman was that person . . . the go-to man."

It was even defined as a sports-specific reference by American Heritage around the turn of the millennium and later updated to the broader definition of "relied on for expert knowledge or skill”' by Merriam-Webster’s in 2004. Many bosses now have an employee they go to when they need a dynamite presentation or to land the big account. Even in our daily lives we probably have a go-to plumber when we have a leaky pipe or a go-to lawyer when we get in a spot.

And the term is not limited to people. We may have a go-to tool to get the job done, or even a go-to food when we are feeling blue or want to celebrate.

In the quality industry, the coordinate measurement machine could be that go-to tool. Decide for yourself after you read “The Future of CMMs” and everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!