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Counting Out Words for Approximate Seconds

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Jim in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, says that during childhood games of touch football, he and his friends would count out the required three seconds before rushing as Mississippi one, Mississippi two, Mississippi three. Other ways of counting seconds, whether for touch football or the time between a flash of lightning and thunder, include one Mississippi, two Mississippi or one thousand one, one thousand two. In England, this kind of rhythmic counting is sometimes rendered as Piccadilly one, Piccadilly two. Many English-speaking countries have a whole menagerie of words to choose from, including hippopotamus, chimpanzee, crocodile, and alligator. In France, the word Mississippi is sometimes used, along with crocodile. In Poland, the word for “crocodile” is also used for counting. Swedes sometimes use the Swedish equivalent of one thousand one. Germans start at the number 20, using einundzwanzig, zweiundzwanzig, meaning “21, 22,” and a similar pattern is used in Hebrew and Danish, although Danes also measure time by counting “barrels of beer.” This is part of a complete episode.

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