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(This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.)

"Ne'er-do-well" is a contracted compound word stemming from the combination of the words "never do well."



ne'er-do-well (plural ne'er-do-wells)

  1. A person without a means of support; an idle, worthless person; a loafer; a person who is ineffectual, unsuccessful, or completely lacking in merit; a good-for-nothing.
    • 1933, The Commonweal, volume 19, page 241:
      So they have trooped forth to organize village down-and-outs and ne'er-do-wells into would-be combat units.
    • 2012, Christoper Zara, Tortured Artists: From Picasso and Monroe to Warhol and Winehouse, the Twisted Secrets of the World's Most Creative Minds, part 1, chapter 1, 26:
      Clara's father, a trollish ne'er-do-well who spent most of his time in brothels and saloons, would disappear for days and weeks at a stretch, leaving Clara and her mother to fend for themselves.
  2. A person who is up to no good; a rogue.


ne'er-do-well (comparative more ne'er-do-well, superlative most ne'er-do-well)

  1. Showing the characteristics of a ne'er-do-well: indolent, worthless, or roguish.
    • 1859, George Sargent, The Story of a Pocket Bible, The Religious Tract Society, page 392:
      The brother who sought me out and would have redeemed me from the power of darkness, but he couldn't; and has robbed himself of joy and comfort in life to keep his ne'er-do-well brother from starvation; who has paid his debts over and taken him out of jail again and again....
    • 2010, Susan Cayleff, Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women's Health, Temple University Press, page 88:
      Before the 1850s, when women figured most prominently in textile employment, the reasons that caused women to seek paid labor—a ne'er-do-well husband, economic distress of the natal family, or a belief that factory work was a road to self-betterment—often precluded their considering an away-from-home cure.
    • '2013, Kelly Hager, Dickens and the Rise of Divorce: The Failed-Marriage Plot and the Novel Tradition, Ashgate Publishing Limited, page 146:
      Think of the scorn with which Nicholas Nicklebys Madame Mantalini treats her ne'er-do-well husband from whom she insists "on being separated and left to myself...."



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