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Number One and Number Two for Pee and Poo

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  • Regarding #1 and #2, my understanding (from hearing what older people said when I was growing up in rural northern Indiana) is that these designations go back to the days when the restroom at a school was an outhouse. So that students could ask to be excused to use it with minimal disruption, they used hand signals: one raised finger to urinate, two to defecate. Why those numbers, and why there needed to be a definite specification, I have no idea, unless it was so teachers could have an idea how long a student might be gone.
    I’m sure you’ve seen that explanation. But here’s a story based on it, which I think lends a little more credence to it. In the early 1960s, my father took my brother and me to a small-town high school athletic banquet. The speaker told a story about a basketball referee from years earlier who was a very tall man, so big that he could hold a basketball in the palm of one hand. Once, after he called a foul, he held the ball in his right hand and raised two big fingers above it, to indicate the number of free throws. According to the speaker, people seeing this thought it looked really funny to see this gigantic authority figure holding up his hand like a little boy asking to be excused for #2.
    The fact that this story was told, and that it presupposes the hand gestures in an old-fashioned school context, seems to me to support this version of the origin of the terminology. But I suppose lots of people think that about their versions.
    Thanks for your great programs!

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