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I was researching the phrase fair do's, attempting to determine which spelling was most appropriate, and where it had come from. Unfortunately most of the information I could find was very opinionated, or didn't mention the different forms.

So, where is it from, and how common are the different spellings?

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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Here's the OED's definition and earliest two quotations:

2.c. Usu. in pl. Dealing, treatment; esp. in phr. fair do's. colloq. (orig. dial.).

1859 T. Hughes Scouring of White Horse vi. 122 Only seemed to want what they called ‘fair doos’.

1862 C. C. Robinson Dial. Leeds & Neighbourhood 282 ‘A shabby dew’, says a man who has had twopence given him for getting a waggon-load of coals in. ‘A fairish dew’, says another who has got a shilling and a lot of victuals away with him for the same.

The other quotations use these spellings: Fair do's, fair do's, fair dos, Fair do, fair do's. The first of these is from 1941:

1941 L. A. G. Strong Bay 168 Come on, Doctor. Fair do's.

The spellings are usually a variation of the noun do (under which the phrase is listed in the OED), because a do is something done, a dealing or treatment.

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Great information, thanks! From your post I was able to find a list of a few more of their sources and added one extra to show the first that had the spelling fair do's. Hope you don't mind :) –  Samthere May 17 '13 at 15:14
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@Samthere: Yeah, no problem, fair dos. –  Hugo May 17 '13 at 15:46
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According to the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed., fair do's is “something that you say in order to tell someone that you think something is fair.” Fair dues is about equally common but has a different meaning, akin to “give him his due.”

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It isn’t *fair dos. It is fair dues, as in one has received his fair dues or paid his fair dues. There is no such thing as a do.

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That there isn't such a thing as a 'do' doesn't make the phrase 'fair dos' not exist. Whether it's a corruption of 'fair dues' is another matter. –  George Stirling Jan 12 at 18:32
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The word is a heaven name (firdos). It's an Arabic word, but it doesn't have any meaning in Arabic.

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Is there anything to suggest the British phrase fair dos is connected to this Arabic word for heaven, firdos? –  Hugo May 17 '13 at 15:48
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The word is a repeated mispronunciation of the old tennis term fair deuce, meaning “well done” or "fair victory".

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It may say that in the Urban Dictionary, but it seems unlikely. Deuce in tennis comes from the French for two, so means "first to be two ahead" rather than "point". –  Henry Jan 4 at 12:39
    
Hi Beth, welcome to ELU. You could improve your answer by providing the citation for your provided definition. That is, explicitly tell us where you found that, either with a link or a more discursive explanation. –  tchrist Jan 4 at 18:09
    
Thanks Henry that makes sense. I think I got mixed up with the fencing term touche which means fair point –  Beth Jan 5 at 1:25
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