5

I've first heard the phrase on QI (season 3 episode 6) where Stephen Fry uses it as rhyming slang for "buzz"

Bill: "Woman"?

Stephen: "Woman who does": buzz.

Bill: Buzz.

Phill: "Woman-who-does"?!

Stephen [laughing]: It's all I could think of!

Phill: Oh, oh. So we're doing middle-class Cockney rhyming slang!

I couldn't find it anywhere and wrote it off. But then I heard it again used in the White's Blues by Fascinating Aida. Sadly I couldn't find the lyrics but it seems to refer to a nurse that takes care of the singers infant. The song can be found here.

Am I right in assuming the phrase refers to some sort of housekeeper duties? Also does anyone have any idea where the phrase originates or where it is used? I've never heard it before but it seems to (according to Phill's comment) be tied to (presumably British) middle class society.

  • 1
    It can pretty much mean anything you want. (Think of the things a woman might do.) – Hot Licks Jul 5 '15 at 18:51
6

The OED's entry for do, under Phrasal Verbs, has an entry to do for —, whose definition 1b is:

colloq. To attend to; esp. to perform household tasks for, esp. as an employee.

They give (among others) a 1997 citation from the Daily Telegraph:

Mrs Simmons has ‘done for’ Mrs Lynton-Smith for 24 years.

In context, it usually refers to light cleaning and housekeeping tasks. As chasly says, it doesn't seem to include live-in servants.

A woman who does might have been called, in earlier times, a charwoman or daily woman.

  • I'm really surprised it's cited as 1994; I associate it with the interwar years; post the 1914-18 destruction of capital but pre everyone in Britain being forced to work to survive... – Ben Jul 5 '15 at 19:45
  • @Ben: There were several earlier citations as well, going back to the mid-1800's, I believe. I just chose one that I thought best illustrated the usage. – Nate Eldredge Jul 5 '15 at 20:30
  • @Ben The second world war virtually ended 'live-in' domestic service in Britain. (During the war, when millions of women were conscripted into factory and armaments work, only the elderly or the sick were permitted to keep their servants). But a 'woman who does', in this context, is most likely a 'daily' maid or charwoman. – WS2 Jul 5 '15 at 22:08
  • It's not surprising that it was used in the Telegraph in 1997, especially for something dating back 24 years. The WWII radio comedy show ITMA (It's That Man Again) which ran from 1939 to 1949 featured a charlady (Mrs Mopp) whose catch-phrase was "Can I do you now, sir?" bbc.co.uk/liverpool/localhistory/journey/stars/tommy_handley/… – alephzero Jul 6 '15 at 0:07
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    It's worth noting that although this meaning of do for is not to be understood sexually (as in Jim's comment on chasly's answer), its potential as a double entendre has certainly not been overlooked. – Nate Eldredge Jul 6 '15 at 0:09
7

Yes, it is a woman who does household chores for remuneration. She does not live as a member of the household.

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    I imagine that exactly what it is that she does is highly dependent on context. – Jim Jul 5 '15 at 16:52
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    @Jim: Not really. Such a woman (actually, more often a lady who does) invariably only does light housework. Unless things have gone horribly wrong (from the perspective of the resident dominant female), she's not likely to provide services in the bedroom. – FumbleFingers Jul 5 '15 at 17:15
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    I would like to cast a vote but I'm unable to evaluate the accuracy of this answer. – user98990 Jul 5 '15 at 17:45
  • Yes, for example iirc Mr. Gamgee used to "do" for Mr. Baggins. – ChrisW Jul 5 '15 at 20:06
  • @ChrisW oh, now that took me back 13 years, to the days of Sam will kill him if he tries anything – EnergyNumbers Sep 16 '15 at 8:12
4

We had a woman that does when I was a child, it's the old language for a cleaner who came daily to clean the house, made the beds and did the washing for people who could afford to pay. We had one because my mother had never done any housework as her family always had live in servants so when we moved to a smaller house she needed the help especially as my grandmother lived with us.

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