Running Errands and Doing Chores

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An English teacher from the Philippines wants to know the difference between errands and chores.

The word errand is most commonly used in the sense of a short journey taken to perform some necessary duty. Some examples of errands are: taking or fetching clothes from the cleaners; taking mail to the post office; filling the car with fuel, taking sacks of leaves to the compost center, etc.

The word errand comes from Old English ærende “message, mission.” The message was usually carried by a servant or low-ranking soldier.

Errand still has the connotation of something of minor importance that can be carried out by anyone. An employee might complain of being “an errand boy” if all he’s allowed to do is unimportant work.

The expression to go on a fool’s errand means to set out to accomplish something that turns out to be impossible to accomplish. Similar to going on fool’s errand is going on a wild goose chase.

A chore can be simply a necessary domestic task such as vacuuming or taking out the garbage, or it can be used in the sense of a really tiresome, time-consuming task.

Here are some examples from the internet of the two meanings of chore.

Chore as household responsibilities

Let’s face it – sometimes, doing your chores can be a drag!

Doing household chores does not have to be boring or a waste of time. If you don’t have time to go to the gym and workout or stay at home and lift weights, you can combine muscle building with doing household chores.

There are many ways to save time doing your daily chores. You can make life easier by staying ahead on things instead of procrastinating. Daily chores include laundry, dishes, sweep, vacuum and mopping. Even washing up your sinks in your kitchen and bathrooms.

Chore as an onerous task

That sure was a chore trying over and over to get you all the actual link.

Washing my toddler’s hair was a chore…moving around causing shampoo and water in eyes and ears…which drove her crazy.

Combined with more explosions than the bombing of Iraq with Michael Bay’s patented swooping camera shots, the film was a chore to watch from beginning to end.

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7 thoughts on “Running Errands and Doing Chores”

  1. Ahem. I grew up on an Iowa farm. When I got home, I had chores to do. That is, feed hogs, carry water, gather eggs – whatever was my assigned task.

    They were chores because they were assigned tasks. If chores got skipped – something usually missed getting fed or watered, or brought in for the night, or a pen or building didn’t get cleaned. Maybe dire for some of the livestock, maybe not. But chores got done or the farm suffered.

    Some chores were tedious, others interesting. My sister and I did chores, or we didn’t get an allowance. Doing dishes, folding clothes, making beds – these were also chores at different times. Helping clean house was a tough one – stay busy doing what needed to be done until all the tasks Mom could think of were accomplished.

    Especially on a farm, chores build character. You learn that your work connects to the welfare of crops and livestock. You learn that doing the same thing day after day isn’t the same thing at all – each day the pigs need fed. Doing the chore yesterday doesn’t satisfy for today, and won’t for tomorrow. Chores were assigned in accordance with experience, skill, and strength, to maintain growth in skills and responsibility; they were an elementary part of “raising” children – build character, discipline, aptitude, skills, and responsibility.

    Your brief description of “chores” seems light, for the weight of the word in my life.

  2. each day the pigs need fed.

    Is that a typo (“need feeding” or “need to be fed”), or dialect?

  3. Brad K.,
    Great comment–a commentary on more than a word. That’s what “chores” meant to my daddy and uncles. The “pigs need fed” was an idiom they used too. Only they would have said “hogs.” 🙂

  4. Maeve,

    But pigs and hogs gets into technical jargon terms. Hogs, at home, were the entire operation, from baby pigs, to feeders, to sows and boars. At about half-grown, gilts and barrows (we didn’t raise boar pigs) were collectively calls “hogs” if we didn’t care about the gender. Gilts and sows applied to individual young or second litter and later breeding females, if separated and kept specifically for breeding.

    I guess I was thinking about the younger pigs, shortly after weaning. Of course the sows and feeders needed fed, too.

  5. Brad K. I came on here to say the same thing you said. The word “chore” does have a whole other meaning on a ranch or farm, as you so correctly said.
    As far as the teacher from the Philippines, I’ve spent a lot of time there, and haven’t heard anyone use Errand or Chore as if they were interchangeable, but if both words are used for simple tasks, I can see where her question comes from.

    Like My sentence endings Anyone ?

  6. 🙂 Yep Errand and Chore isn’t commonly used in the Philippines. I believe ‘tasks’ is the one that 99% of them use.

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