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Laundry list

Posted by R. Berg on February 15, 2008 at 17:58:

In Reply to: Laundry list posted by RRC on February 15, 2008 at 17:09:

: : : In reference to the origin of laundry list - "a list of items to be laundered": Why would anyone ever have had the need to actually write down a list of clothes they need to clean? Why would this have been a common enough need to give rise to a popular expression?

: : Becuase a laundry list wasn't a list of items the writer was going to clean him- or herself; it was a list of items that were sent to the laundry to be cleaned. Before washing machines, spin-driers, tumble-driers and electric irons became standard household equipment, doing household laundry was an immensely time- and space-consuming procedure, involving heating water in the copper in the wash-house, scrubbing the items on a washboard with coarse soap (very damaging to the hands), cranking them through a mangle, hanging them out to dry and ironing them with a flat-iron heated on a stove. A whole day was traditionally given over to this task; the whole house would be filled with smelly steam and dinner had to be a cold meal because all the fire in the house was dedicated to heating water, not food. Very many people hadn't the time, space, equipment, energy or patience to do this for themselves, and routinely bundled up their dirty things to be picked up by, or sent to, a professional washerwoman or laundry establishment. (My mother was still doing this in the 1950s.) Naturally you attached to the bundle a list of everything that was in it, and kept a copy so you could check when it came back that all your things were present and correct. (VSD)

: Up until very recently, many dry cleaners, laundries, and other cleaning services used a pre-printed listing which the employee would just mark the number of each item being dropped off. Prevents a lot of squabbles over whether a bit of scribble means "shirt" or "suit", etc.
: Here's a link to a picture of one from the Hotel Astor -

Interesting list, RRC. Too bad the year is missing. Did everyone notice that prices for ladies' wear typically exceed those for the corresponding gentlemen's items? And towels and washcloths are in the ladies' column only. Apparently gentlemen didn't bathe. Maybe they had attendants to bathe them.

Samuel Pepys' diary mentions laundry day, when his wife and the servants had to rise early and the home was in an uproar.