“Done and done”

I hasten to say this is not a Britishism, at least in the way it’s currently used in the U.S. But it relates to a Britishism, so I reproduce below my post on “done and done” from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Lingua Franca blog:

I texted my wife the other day asking whether she had walked the dog. She answered, “Done and done.” I was like, “Wait — what and what??”

The truth is, the expression, indicating a task accomplished, did have a bit of a familiar ring to it. Going to Google News, I find these examples just in the last 10 days:

  • “I also believe it’s a particularly good match for the free-weekend treatment. You get in, you hopefully have a good time, and you get out. Done and done.” –Destructoid, on a game called Steep.
  • “First, duh, we just replace the iceberg that the Titanic crashed into with a giant, ocean-based creature. Bang. Done and done.” –article on The Ringer about putting giant animals into classic movies.
  • “Pink suitcases that could fit everything and still be light — done and done. The opportunity to extend the pastel world is so exciting for us.” –Poppy James, of luggage maker Pop+Suki, in Teen Vogue
  • The Princeton University basketball team owns “the spotless 14-0 conference record, and a 17-game winning streak. If this were yesterday, they’d own a bid to the NCAA Tournament, all done and done.”  –NCAA.com

In January, the New York Times television critic James Poniewozik wrote about Donald Trump’s reality-TV-style approach to the issues of the day: “And what does ‘ending conflict of interest’ look like? A lawyer says the word ‘trust’ a bunch of times, and there’s a big pile of documents. Done and done!”

These and other examples comprise two categories: cases where more than one task has been completed (so that the first “done” refers to one thing and the second another), and cases where it’s just one task (in which the second “done” is rhetorically redundant).

The expression doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary or Green’s Dictionary of Slang. But it was used as early as 1712, when, as Richard Bleiler of the University of Connecticut has discovered, in “Whig and Tory: or, Wit on both Sides”:

Which introduc’d the Strife.
At which, the rough Tarpawling
Huzza’d, and made a Hollowing,
By crying, you’re a Whig, Sir,
Altho’ you talk so big, Sir,
And dare not Wage your Life.
When Done and Done was spoken,
A sure and certain Token,
That they both were agreed, Sir,
To do some mighty Deed, Sir . . .

The website World Wide Words investigated the expression in 2004 and found an appearance in the novel Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth, published in 1800: “‘Done,’ says my master; ‘I’ll lay you a hundred golden guineas to a tester you don’t.’ ‘Done,’ says the gauger; and done and done’s enough between two gentlemen.”

World Wide Words explains that tester is “a slang term for sixpence” and  gauger “an exciseman’s assistant who checked the capacity of casks.” It goes on:

… it seems that the usual convention was that a bet was agreed on the mere word of the two principals if both said “done.” They both being gentlemen, or assumed to be such, their word was their bond and there was no question of going back on the agreement once it had been made. Hence “done and done” meant that a binding agreement had been mutually accepted.

A half century after Edgeworth’s book, the expression seems to have become established, as well as crossed the Atlantic. From James Fenimore Cooper’s The Crater (1848): “Done and done between gentlemen, is enough, sir.”

But the current use of the expression has a different meaning — “Done thoroughly and satisfactorily,” as Wiktionary puts it. Wiktionary’s first citation for it is a short story called “A Natural Notion,” by David Seybold, included in the 1985 book Seasons of the Hunter: An Anthology, edited by Seybold and Robert Elman: “Done and done, he said to himself. And he felt pretty good. The anger and hurt that only a few hours before had been sharp and deep had dulled.”

My sense is that this second meaning of done and done took hold after the turn of the 21st century and has really taken off in the last few years. And my hypothesis is that its popularity sprang from another, similar sounding expression, done and dusted, which I covered in this blog in 2015:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase as meaning “completely finished or ready.” Its citations are all from British sources, starting with the British Bee Journal, which had this line in 1953: “All to be done and dusted before the National Honey Show. After this the grand clear up.”

Done and dusted, which appears to have originated as a Northwest England regionalism, became in vogue in the 1990s Britain, but still hasn’t achieved much popularity in the United States, as this Google Ngram Viewer graph shows:

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.09.08 AM

So here’s the hypothesis. Done and dusted is a useful expression, the alliterative double verb giving strong emphasis to the idea of a job completed. But it sounds too, well, British, for Americans to want to use it, at least for the time being. So we Yanks cleverly resurrected a similar-sounding older phrase, and cleverly assigned to it the same meaning as done and dusted.

The done and done question?

Done and done.

16 thoughts on ““Done and done”

      1. Ben, I think Thurber wrote about it in “The Years with Ross.” May have also been mentioned in Gill’s, “Here At The New Yorker,” or in one of E.B.
        White’s many essays.

  1. Done and done? Never heard it before. Done and dusted? Absolutely. Done and done not a Britishism.

  2. I’ve never heard of ‘done and done’ but I’m very familiar with done and dusted. I wonder if the former is maybe a regional expression.

  3. I always thought that the first Done was “I’ve done the task” and the second was more like “so it a Done Deal”. So the first was a prerequisite for the first but they’ve both already occurred.

  4. As Judge Vaisey said: ‘A gentleman’s agreement is an agreement which is not an agreement, made between two people neither of whom are gentlemen, whereby each expects the other to be strictly bound without himself being bound at all.’

  5. I’m English from the South-East and “done and done” means to me “the deal is concluded and one party has made a poor bargain”. The first “done” is the conclusion of the deal (“the deal is done”). The second “done” indicates that the other party has been cheated (“you’ve been done”)

  6. I’m British, although post Brexit, if Scotland leaves the UK and Ireland reunites the English will be left with the Welsh; not a great prospect for either. I digress though,I’m 59 and wrote research reports for a living and have bnever heard the phrase “done and done” it simply isn’t in current English usage as spoken or written over here.

  7. I would have interpreted this as ‘completed and knackered’, done the job and done in. Being lazy at texting and leaving out the ‘in’. Otherwise a very odd phrase indeed.

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