Your understanding of "civil" is correct, but the sentence is not. "We have to be civil to him."
Student or Learner
We have to do the civil to him.
Could I ask what the sentence above mean? 'We have to be polite, but in a formal way and not friendly to him'? This sentence is taken from Jespersen's ESSENTIALS OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR', in the chapter which deals with the article 'the', without any context.
Last edited by joham; 27-Nov-2014 at 01:03.
I agree with MikeNewYork, but on the other hand your source is authoritative. I speculate that "We have to do the civil to him" is BrE dialect, perhaps Cockney.
Otto Jespersen, 1860 - 1943, might not be the most authoritative source still on modern English idioms.
The Grammar (1949) is downloadable as a historical curiosity from:
Here is an example of "do the civil" from 1823.
So probably it is archaic or even obsolete.
A question to Joham: Where did you find this phrase?