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Last updated at 14:18 GMT, Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Early Doors

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John Ayto discusses a modern use of the expression 'early doors'.

People in a queue

Early Doors

"They try to play a very physical game and get on top of you early doors." That comes from a report on a football match I read recently. Early doors? What's that all about? It means 'at an early stage in the proceedings'.

But why 'doors'? Where did that come from? Nobody knows for certain, but the best guess is that it originally referred to theatres, music halls and similar places opening their doors in advance of the time when the advertised entertainment was due to begin.

Customers who slipped in then had a much better choice of seats than people who left it to the last moment, so from the outset 'early doors' implied gaining an advantage by taking action at the first opportunity.

Another strand in the phrase's history may be that until recently pubs in Britain had to close during the afternoon, so there'd be quite a rush for the bar when the doors reopened around 5 o'clock.

But wherever it came from, it seems to have reached a wider audience thanks to sports commentaries on television. It came to be associated especially with the outspoken British television soccer pundit Ron Atkinson, who could be relied on to use the phrase at least once a match.

And now, it seems to be popping up all over the place, including non-sporting contexts – as in "She had a bad cold, and retired to bed early doors" – so much so that it’s become something of a cliché.

About John Ayto

John Ayto

John Ayto is a lexicographer and a writer on words and language. He began his dictionary career as one of the editors of the first edition of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, and over the past twenty years he has produced a range of his own books on the history and use of words, including the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang and Twentieth-Century Words, a survey of the new words that came into the English language during the twentieth century. He edited the 17th edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and he has broadcast extensively on lexical matters.