“Do” (food)

Among the no doubt hundreds of meanings of the verb to do is a particularly British one. It relates to food in general or a particular dish; the American equivalents are serve or offer. Thus an English tennis partner of mine once described a dinner part in which he “did pass-ta [the first syllable rhyming with class] and turkey.” Or one might inquire of a pub, “Do you do meals?”

I have been on the lookout for American uses of this do, with no luck until a couple of says ago, when I spotted this headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

So let’s see if do does America.

47 thoughts on ““Do” (food)

  1. “did pass-ta [the first syllable rhyming with class]

    “Class” is an unfortunate choice of rhyme here, because in Southern England it has the vowel of FA-ther, which is not what you mean. You will probably get people from South England protesting that “pasta” doesn’t rhyme with “class”.

    Use “lass” instead.

  2. I’m from Boston and this use of To Do is common. I don’t know about frequency of use in the papers but in everyday vernacular, yes.

    1. I’m a native Bostonian and we ask if so ‘n so ‘does lunch’, breakfast, brunch… I know that that use has been around for awhile because my mother’s used it over my lifetime. Last year, I saw a restaurant’s sidewalk chalkboard in my neighborhood with ‘We now do lunch!’ written on it. The difference may lay with where people are actually from as Boston itself is full of students and blow-ins from all over the world. There are differences between terminology used by city dwellers and suburbia for that matter, southeastern MA and greater Boston and so forth.

  3. I’m confused. The “a”s in “class” and in “lass” have always sounded the same to me. By way of verification, I asked Google (because it’s convenient, not authoritative, necessarily) to define each, and listened to the pronunciations. I can’t paste the sound clips here, but notice the umlaut over the “a” in the pronunciation guide for “pasta” that’s missing from those for “class” and for “lass”:(class/klas/; lass/las/; pas·ta/ˈpästə/). [Google.co.uk gives the same results.] I don’t know what the apostrophe before the pronunciation for pasta means.

    I’ve heard actors in BBC programmes pronounce both “pasta” and “mall” with the same “a” as in “class” and “lass”.

    But back to the main topic, “do” in this context seems perfectly normal to me.

    So, when Hollywood types “do lunch,” does that fit under this usage, or not? I expect not, since you’re talking about the serving side, while they’re talking about the receiving side.

    I’ll keep an eye out for other examples.

    1. ‘I’ve heard actors in BBC programmes pronounce both “pasta” and “mall” with the same “a” as in “class” and “lass”’

      depends where they come from, in the north the short “a” sound predominates, in the south the long “a” is the norm. i.e. “cl’ass”, claarrrs” (l’ass, because its the usual dialectal form in the north for a young female, but never “laarrs” because it’s not used in the south, it’s “girl” instead.)

  4. Maybe it is a New England thing, but I hear it up on Cape Cod all the time. The country club does lunches until October, the dining room does dinner until I think 9:00, but they will do you a sandwich later upstairs. They do a really great shrimp scampi at such and such a place.

    Maybe it is that I talk some chef talk….

  5. To Hal Hall: the quality of the vowel in “class” is a reasonably good shibboleth for the north-south divide in pronunciation in Great Britain.

    Basically, “lass” and “pasta” rhyme in both sets of accents here, (with pasta having a different pronuncation to what is usual in North America), but “class” will only rhyme with the other two words in the north of Great Britain.

    Phonetically, in the UK pasta is /ˈpæstə/, but in the US it’s /ˈpɑːstə/ or /ˈpaːstə/. In the UK lass will always be /læs/. But class will vary between /klɑːs/ in the south and /klæs/ in the north.

    1. When I pronounced pasta as “pahsta” (as pronounced in Italian) to a Canadian friend, she couldn’t believe it. She insisted it should be pronounced to rhyme with “lass” (high “a”). She is from Montreal, where there are many people of Italian heritage. The American pronunciation is closer the Italian.

      1. Yes, that’s definitely Canadian. In college, I was struck when my friend Jed Rabinovich, from Montreal, said “dram-a,” rather than the U.S. “drahma.” How do the British say “drama,” or do they avoid the word as too hoity-toity?

      2. “guffaws” It’s drah-ma, darling. At least in the south. Can’t vouch for other accents but I can imagine a Northern Ireland accent pronouncing it as “dram-a”

      3. I don’t know why anyone would thumbs-down my comment. I’m Italian-American, I speak some Italian, and what I said is true.

  6. In New York I once asked the receptionist at a feminine-looking hair salon, “Excuse me: do you do men?”
    “Why yes,” came the reply, with a wink. “And we also cut hair.”

  7. @Michael Nash the pas in pasta is very definitely pronounced to rhyme with arse in some parts of Britain. I know several people who pronounce it that way, several TV chefs also use that pronunciation. Certainly rhyming with ass is more common, but I find it hard to believe you haven’t come accross both pronunciations.

  8. @Hal Hall the hollywood sense of “doing lunch” does not fit under this usage as you suggest, but that sense is also fairly common in Britain. At least among a certain class of people. It is yet another sense the verb “to do” since it is a rather curious usage. If you are alone you eat lunch, you can only do lunch in company and even then only if it is prearranged and not the normal course of events.

  9. As an English guy, this is all very bizarre. A lot of what I read here is what I thought we imported from you, especially ‘to do’ ‘Let’s do lunch’ No way, (!), is this British in origin.

    Now, when you talk about class (rhymes with Lass) and grass and glass, (rhymes with ass) you know you’re north of Birmingham (GB not AL). ‘Par-sta’ and ‘glarse’, ‘grarse’ and ‘cla-rse’ sounds to my northern ears, pretentious southern-isms, (UK south not US south).

    As an open question, 😉 why can’t you americans pronounce ‘mirror’ correctly? I hear mee-ure. What??? it has two syllables: mi-rror
    Anyway have a nice day y’all

      1. That should be “cheers”, with an “s” on the end. “Cheer” sounds like an imperative: “cheer loudly, or else!”

  10. To my mind this conjures up up some kind of vestigial attachment either directly connected or later brought back into common use with the French utility verb ‘faire’ (to do). In French the verbs ‘do’ (and indeed ‘avoir’ to have) commonly proceed many words to form compound verbs, I am certain it is by far one of the most used verbs.

    Certainly the English language is littered with French words, dating from the time of the Norman conquest where French was the language of the nobility. Maybe the British attachment to this French type use of the verb ‘do’ stems from its common and equivalent use in French?

    Otherwise, I would propose the British obsession with class can be seen to manifest itself with the British notion throughout the ages that any association with French implies aristocratic or high class values. Perhaps unfairly, dropping French pronunciation or spattering French phrases (such a cliche!) is seen to be common with a very specific posh, snobbish or (even more frowned upon) new rich set here in the UK. I would associate the overuse of this French type use of ‘do’ with the same set, your example ‘do lunch’ or a haughty exclamation of ‘Oh we must do dinner!’, it implies an event of some import or grandeur, only a common citizen might just simply eat their pitiful lunch!

    This type of class language is a constant source of amusement, British privately educated politicians so keen to shed their associations with wealth and entitlement by the use of more common vernacular whereas social climbers make efforts to take up what is perceived to be the language of class or intelligence, the British public is generally not impressed with either and lampoon both equally, after all, each should know their place!

  11. “Do” is perhaps a merger of both “serve” and “create” when talking about doing food.
    “They do a mean Mexican take away at X”. Not only means that they serve such a meal but they also make such a meal.

    We “do” an exam, we “do” the cleaning, (house work), we “do” a meal.

    By the way, you did notice you “say” and “day” spelling mistake, no? Had me trying to work out if this was some kind of Americanism I had never come across before.

    And a note on UK accents, it might be a wise idea to think in terms of a North South divide, the number of possible accents across the country is far more diverse than that.
    And it is Southern England, not South England.

  12. Of course on this side of the Atlantic, not only do you have British-English but Irish-English as well.

    Where I come from the question “Do you do food?” might be answered with “Yes we do do food” , the reason being how the Gaelic language handles the verbs “to do” and “to make”. Of course “do do” has a quite different connotation in the USA!

  13. PS I am not a northerner but my parents probably never used the word pasta (the nearest we got was tins of “Alphabetti Spaghetti”), and I was homeschooled. I went to college in Wales and live in Scotland, so I’ve probably never heard the posh southern version and didn’t realise people used it!

    1. Pasta was not used much even among Italian-Americans (when speaking English) until at least 20 years ago. We said spaghetti or macaroni, and these are still common as generic terms for pasta.

  14. I’ve been hearing this for about 30+ years in northern Wisconsin, in relation to a place that might serve food, but might not (e.g., a tavern): “You do food?” Meaning, more or less, do you serve food and alcohol, or just the alcohol?

    1. Some people pronounce is poss-ta , think of the pronunciation of boss when you say it. Then there are some in the home counties that pronounce it paws-ta

      I know its an odd way to say it but I think the people that do think that its posher to say it that way.

      1. ‘but some people from Britain pronounce it “poss-ta”?’
        only if they’re extremely snobby/posh/pretentious”. I’ve never heard it said like that, just pas (as in “gas”) – ta

  15. I thought this might be about going to a celebration or party, e.g. ‘Bob’s having his leaving Do in the pub tonight.. Are you coming?’

    Has that reached your shores yet?

    1. A “do” as some kind of celebratory event was very common in the US decades ago. It’s not heard much any more. I wouldn’t assume the direction of the borrowing.

  16. “Doing lunch” is definitely not the same thing. That’s a Hollywoodism that’s been around since at least the 1980s. “The Thai noodle place in my town does a very good pineapple fried rice” is what they’re talking about here (and it’s true, too).

    1. Not sure what you’re saying is true. At any rate, in New England, in speech, we certainly “do” individual dishes. (“Do they do egg rolls?”) In fact “do” is used in non-food contexts as well. (“Do you do the coastal route?”) One could list 100s of examples.

  17. I have an RP accent (although not from southern England), and pronounce pasta to rhyme with ass, and class to rhyme with arse, to introduce another Britishism. Many (but not all) people in the North of England will pronounce both to rhyme with ass. Like Dave, I’ve never heard “poss-ta”. To hear “class” pronounced like arse, and get a witty snapshot of the British Class system, watch the classic “Class sketch” (bad sound) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2k1iRD2f-c

  18. Another well-known variation on this usage, at least in the UK, is the statement by Tony Blair’s spin doctor that “we don’t do religion”, meaning that Mr Blair’s religious beliefs, and in particular their influence on his actions as Prime Minister, were not an acceptable topic for interviews with the press.

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