Where does 101 come from?
May 18, 2004 5:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of teaching 1984 by George Orwell and, as we near the end of Book Three and are shown the horrors of Room 101, the question always arises: why do we use the number 101 to designate an introduction to a subject? What is the origin?
posted by ronv to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
Is it not in reference to university courses? 100-level courses being first year (freshman) courses, '01' naturally being the first course in that subject. At least, that was the rationale behind the course numbering system at my university.
posted by John Shaft at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2004

alt.usage.english thread here

"101 is the second-lowest positive integer with three
digits. Furthermore, some colleges number the lowest-level courses
with 100. However, 101 is indeed more commonly used for this purpose
in the U.S. colleges I'm familiar with."

posted by matteo at 6:09 PM on May 18, 2004

What John Shaft said. I'll only add that at at least one university I've attended, zero-hundred level courses (numbered less than one hundred, but with leading zeroes so course numbers were still three digits) were used to indicated remedial courses, i.e., things you probably should have had in high school, but some people didn't.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:11 PM on May 18, 2004

All that, of course, is unrelated to Orwell's reason for using the number 101, which I believe had to do with that being the number of his room at the BBC.
posted by reklaw at 6:43 PM on May 18, 2004

Don't know if this helps, but here's a bit about Room 101 from the Beeb.
posted by riffola at 9:15 PM on May 18, 2004

Oh and reklaw is almost correct, he did use the number of a meeting room at BBC. Room 101 at 55 Portland Place.
posted by riffola at 9:17 PM on May 18, 2004

Is it not in reference to university courses?

At my university, albeit a west-coast USA place where tradition rarely prevails, all beginning courses are in the single and double digits, and all upper division course are in the triple digits. 101 is synonymous, in this system, with "your first course in this subject which isn't cake walk bullshit - pull up your pants and get ready to work"

...or, in Winston Smith's case - be worked.
posted by scarabic at 10:01 PM on May 18, 2004

orwell was british. numbering courses with "101" and the like isn't done there (as far as i know, it's a purely american thing).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:58 AM on May 19, 2004

My (British) Uni does have a 3 digit system for courses, but there is no standard assignation of 101. For example, this document shows there are german, french and statistics 101 but no economics 101. There is no interchangeable system for numbering from uni to uni.
posted by biffa at 8:10 AM on May 19, 2004

Tell your students that Orwell chose the number 101 because it looked like the picture "The Scream". Oval Face / Scraming Mouth, hands covering the ears.
It's a lie, but they'll never know.
posted by seanyboy at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2004

I have no backing for this, but i've always associated it with room numbers -- as in, your first course would be in the first room on the first floor -- logically room 101. As you get more advanced, you proceed down the hall, to rooms 102, 103, etc, and then as you get more advanced you go upstairs to the 200s -- but like I say, I have no backing for this.
posted by whoshotwho at 10:27 AM on May 19, 2004

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