The phrase to "do one" — essentially an insult meaning to "do a disappearing act" (if the Urban Dictionary's definitions* are anything to go by) — seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Where did it come from? Is there any particular usage of it (such as by a celebrity or on a TV show) that led to it gaining traction?

*warning: some of the definitions contain expletives

  • 4
    Urban Dictionary is an interesting window into the way a few young Americans talk, but not to be relied on as a guide to English usage. Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 14:51
  • 3
    @TimLymington True - but there are plenty of other examples of this phrase being used. I asked the question because I was about to use it myself, and started wondering where it came from. It's definitely colloquial/slangy in nature, not for general use as you rightly say.
    – Waggers
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 14:56
  • possible duplicate of What did "your mom did a number on you" mean in Seinfeld?. I was pretty boggled when I tried to do a Google search for do a number using Google Chrome (apparently the search engine though I was going to search for do a barrel roll). Those guys are weird. Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 17:30
  • @FumbleFingers Searching for "do one" didn't get me very far either!
    – Waggers
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 10:31
  • It's from the Manchester scene back in the late 80's. "on one"(related to the drug ecstacy), "in one"(in a mood), "do one"(go away)..... you can even hear Shaun Ryder (Manchester band Happy Mondays)sing this on the song "Do it better" from 1988.
    – user148228
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 20:22

3 Answers 3


The OED says it's chiefly and originally Liverpool and Lancashire slang and compares it to do a bunk and do a runner. Their earliest citation is the Liverpool soap opera Brookside from 1990:

Look just do one, will y' Sinbad!


I consulted a number of print dictionaries of British slang and found only one that had an entry for "do one." From Jonathon Green, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, second edition (2005):

do one v. {1950s+} to leave, to run away.

If Green's dating of the expression to the 1950s is correct, "do one" is older than "do a runner," which Green addresses as follows:

do a runner v. {1970s+} (UK Und[erworld]) to abscond from the police or to be on the run before possible capture by the police, or simply to run away.

However, I didn't find any mentions of "do one" in the sense of "leave, run away" earlier than Green's, suggesting either that it wasn't especially widespread in it early decades of existence or that it was a later coinage (or rediscovery).

Although none of the other print reference works on British slang I consulted have entries for "do one," John Ayto, Oxford Dictionary of Slang (1998) includes several potentially relevant "do a[n] X" terms under the subheading "To go away":

do a bunk (c 1870) British; applied to a hurried departure, often in order to escape; origin unknown | G. B. Shaw: If my legs would support me I'd just do a bunk straight for the ship. (1921)


do a guy (1897) From the verb guy leave * | Norman Vanner: He's just picked me up out of the road with a sprained ankle, or very near it, bandaged me up like a medical student, and brought me home. Then he wants to do guyt the front door. (1925)


do a mickey (or micky, mick) (1937) mick a variant of mike period of idleness or shirking, reinterpreted as a personal name | S. Chaplin: I laid the ring on the notepaper and did a mickey as soon as I heard the front doorbell go. (1961)


do a scarper (1958) from the verb scarper leave hastily | Frank Norman: We had all planned to do a scarper. (1958)


do a runner (1981) British; applied to a hurried departure, and originally specifically to a quick escape from the police or other authority | Morel: They sense you want something else, but they're so scared of whatever it might be that they do a runner. (1992).

To these, Green adds do a bolt (from the second half of the 1800s), do an ally slope (from the 1920s), do a powder (from the 1910s), do a push (from the mid-1800s), and do a skate (from the mid-1800s).

It thus seems that "do one" in the sense of "leave or run away" has many possible fathers of the form "do a[n] X"—although the crucial question of whether "do one" in the sense of "leave or run away" has been in continuous use since the 1950s or was invented (or reinvented) relatively recently does not have a clear answer.

As recently as Tony Thorne, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1990), however, the only relevant "do a[n] X" term listed is "do a runner":

do a runner vb British to escape, run away or disappear. A phrase from semi-criminal and subsequent working class usage which had become generally popular since the early 1980s. It originally referred specifically to the practice of leaving a restaurant, bar, etc. without paying | 'I decided to "do a runner" i.e. to leg it out of the restaurant without paying the bill.' (Great Bus Journeys of the World, Alexei Sayle, 1988).

So if "do one" emerged into current usage quite recently, its most likely immediate source is probably "do a runner." My first encounter with "Do a Runner" was in the form of the title of a record album put out in 1980 by Athletico Spizz 80, a British band formerly known as Spizzenergi and responsible for the not very big (but exceedingly fast) hit single "Where's Captain Kirk?" released in 1979.


It's obviously "do a runner" shortened, and it's particularly prevalent in the Armed Forces. It doesn't only mean "sod off" - it also means "run!"

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.