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?

  • Did you ever see how guys wore their hair 300 years ago?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 22:05

8 Answers 8


The spelling "fair do's" goes back well into the nineteenth century. The two earliest Google Books matches are from 1868 and 1872. From C.A. Wheeler, Sportascrapiana: Facts in Athletics, second edition (1868):

"You're not going to run like that surely, sir. Pull off that waistcoat at all events," said "Professional"—"and then yer trousers are such that no man could run in 'em." "Professional" was a right good-hearted fellow, and wished to see the youth start on what he called "fair do's." "All right, that'll do," said the young gentleman.

And from "Wilfred Wildblood," in The Raven Club Papers (1872):

You know, it was understood from the first between us, that nothing but death itself should separate us, and as we went 'fair do's' in every mortal thing, there wasn't much fear of our splitting.

Likewise, Henry Smith, "A Glossary of Words in Use in the Isle of Wight" (1881) uses that spelling:

Fair-do's, fair treatment. 'I thinks it's pretty well fair-do's.'—[collected at Newport]

As for the earlier variants noted by Hugo in his answer, the first occurs in a sports setting. From Thomas Hughes, The Scouring of the White Horse Or, The Long Vacation Ramble of a London Clerk (1859):

I suppose there are more unsettled points in wrestling, or it is harder to see whether the men are playing fair, for the crowd was much more excited now than at the backsword play, a hundred voices shouting to the umpires every moment to stop this or that practice. Besides, the kicking, which is allowed at elbow and collar wrestling, makes it look brutal very often ; and so I didn't like it so much as the backsword play, though the men were fine, good-tempered fellows, and, when most excited, only seemed to want what they called " fair doos."

A second early instance of "fair doos" appears in Edward Burlend, Amy Thornton, or, The Curate's Daughter (1862):

"Exactly; and now will you be kind enough to say what arts she practised on you to induce you so to feel [the need to kiss her]. Giddy girls sometimes tease young men, so that it is next to impossible for them not to notice them. Mind you, I am not blaming you so much as Amy, but I want to be at the bottom of it."

"I see you do, ma'am ; but let us have fair doos. It would not do to throw the blame on Amy for a thing she has not done, would it, ma'am? and I tell you the honest truth when I say she's never done anything of the kind. She could not help it."

And (again cited in Hugo's answer) from C. Clough Robinson, The Dialect of Leeds and Its Neighbourhood (1862):

DEW or DUE. "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. "A pock-arr'd dew"—being defeated in one's object; comes off the worst, and after a sorry fashion. It will be seen that these examples do not carry the shade of meaning "due" does in standard usage.

  • Fantastic revival of an old question with additional information and including the previously assembled information. Nice research!
    – Samthere
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 11:13

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.”


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.

  • 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
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:14
  • 2
    @Samthere: Yeah, no problem, fair dos.
    – Hugo
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:46

I found an earlier example of the fair do's spelling: 1931 Margery Allingham - Police at the Funeral 'Fair do's,' said Mr Campion.

  • I didn't realise links were necessary or indeed possible, but I could probably have worked that out. It's a very well known book by a famous author in any case and I think most people would be aware of it. I did consider quoting further, but I decided that quoting further wouldn't have added that much as you'd need a lot more text to provide the context rather than just a sentence before or after. I don't understand your question - I was merely adding an earlier usage to the debate. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 9:16
  • I've withdrawn my earlier comment, It is clear to me now (and should have been clear to me then) that the quotation I asked about is from a different novel by Margery Allingham. I still think that providing more context for the sentence you quote would be helpful to future readers of your answer in understanding the sense in which the character uses the phrase. But as you say, simply identifying an occurrence of the expression from 1931 is a legitimate contribution to this page.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 19:54

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.

  • 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. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 18:32

This question is ultimately unanswerable. The origin of the term "do/due/doo/dew" goes back several hundred years, at least, and "correct" spelling in that era was whatever the writer picked. Plus there are easily a dozen different concepts tied to the term, some with related origins but others quite distinct. And, English being what it is, there was no doubt a fair amount of punning with the terms, in more elite circles.

  • Several hundred years ago, do and due were pronounced differently. They wouldn't have been confused. . Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 23:12
  • @PeterShor - Several hundred years ago there were many different pronunciations, as there were different spellings.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 23:14
  • It may not be possible to have an absolute answer, but as others have shown it is possible to research the history of language and phrases and gather related information. A useful answer is one that shows evidence of some of the history of the phrase.
    – Samthere
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 13:41

The word is a repeated mispronunciation of the old tennis term fair deuce, meaning “well done” or "fair victory".

  • 4
    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
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 18:09
  • Thanks Henry that makes sense. I think I got mixed up with the fencing term touche which means fair point
    – Beth
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 1:25

The word is a heaven name (firdos). It's an Arabic word, but it doesn't have any meaning in Arabic.

  • 3
    Is there anything to suggest the British phrase fair dos is connected to this Arabic word for heaven, firdos?
    – Hugo
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:48

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