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Number One--Number Two
Euphemisms.
Topic Rating: 0 (0 votes) 
2013/07/14
5:36pm
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Recounted from stories of those attending a one-room schoolhouse: when a student needed to go to the outhouse, (s)he would raise a hand with one finger extended to indicate the need to urinate–two fingers to defecate. I assume this was to inform the teacher on how long to expect the student to be out of class.

Now, the subject phrases are used verbally and euphemistically to avoid voicing ones need to urinate or defecate. They do not appear to be listed in the OED and I wondered how widespread these euphemisms are used; I relatively often hear this in southwest Missouri.

Any wider use?

Emmett

2013/07/14
10:11pm
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Number two is a very popular phrase in England. I used it all the time. Never knew about the “number one”. I always thought “Number two” rhymed with “poo” though I don’t know why. Thanks for educating me. 

2013/07/14
10:38pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Children learned that numerical code in the Midwest (WI) in the 50s. Seemed to fall out of use in the 60s, but maybe that was just our generation growing up.

 

2013/07/15
2:06am
tromboniator
Alaska
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It certainly was in verbal use in rural/small town New York in the 50s and 60s. I seem to recall that my kids, born and raised in Alaska in the 80s, acquired it, not from their parents.

2013/07/15
4:13am
Glenn
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We used in growing up, especially in school. Likewise, in school during class to indicate you needed to go to the bathroom. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why the teacher needed to make the distinction between number one and number two, but I do remember raising my hand holding up the appropriate number of fingers. It also followed as a verbal euphemism that could be used in any informal setting.

2013/07/15
5:24am
Raffee
Iran
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FWIW, some dictionaries do include them: Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

And we do sometimes use them here jokingly.

2013/07/15
7:24pm
Jackie
Spring Green, WI
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Checking in for NW PA in the 60s & 70s.  I knew immediately what you were referring to by the post title.

 

2013/07/23
9:41am
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I always thought it came from the answer to the following question:  What’s the number one thing you do in the bathroom?  Pee.  What’s the number two thing you do in the bathroom?  Poo.

 

That simple.

2013/08/09
2:24pm
cougar2shoes
Mountains of northern New Mexico
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In the early 1950s, my aunt, who had never been outside of Buffalo, NY asked me this question when I asked to use the bathroom in the park. “Do you need to do number 1 or number 2?”  I was perhaps 4 or 5. I recall not understanding what she was asking.  When she explained, my response was, “Why do you want to know?”

2013/08/10
1:43pm
New River, AZ, USA
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She probably wanted to know because, when using a public restroom, additional sanitary precautions are required for #2. For #1, no contact with the toilet (or urinal) is required. She probably felt that, at age 4-5, you could benefit from her advice.

We used to get that question when we raised our hand to be excused in grade school. In that situation, the question is irrelevant and nobody’s business.

 

2013/08/12
1:16am
Robert
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Were someone to lie just to get out of class, she might opt for the excuse that ensures the teacher’s maximum sympathy if not outright fear and respect.

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