Appendix:Words used as placeholders to count seconds

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Certain words or phrases are commonly used as placeholders to count out a time of about one second, especially in games. This practice is formally documented from at least as early as 1960:

Since it is difficult to see a watch in a photographic darkroom, some photographers have learned to measure time in seconds by counting at their normal conversational rate but interspersing a long word between numbers, as "Mississippi one, Mississippi two, Mississippi three..."
- Physical Science Study Committee, Physics (1960), p. 20.

Commonly used words[edit]

  • alligator
    • 2008, Brandon Mull, Rise of the Evening Star:
      Spencer McCain hiked the football to himself and dropped back. Four boys went out, while four others covered. One defender stayed at the line counting alligators.
  • battleship
    • 2007, Walt Crawford, Cites & Insights, ISSN 1534-0937, page 16:
      Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose into your diaphragm; that should take five to seven seconds (battleship one, battleship two, battleship three…).
  • chimpanzee
    • 1908, Mary Mapes Dodge, St. Nicholas, p. 219:
      "One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee, four chimpanzee." I counted right along, just as I always did, and pretty soon I almost forgot about everybody all around me, and just counted and counted and bent one finger under at the end of every minute, and it wasn't nearly so bad as I was afraid it would be.
  • elephant
    • 2005, Steven Gould, Reflex, p. 348:
      She waited, as the instructions said, counting, "One elephant, two elephant, three elephant," giving the spring time to drive the dose into his body.
  • hippopotamus
    • 1988, Dennis Flanagan, Flanagan's Version, p. 56:
      You can measure how far away a lightning bolt is by counting aloud "One hippopotamus, two hippopotamus, three hippopotamus ..." until you hear the thunder.
  • Mississippi
    • 1996, “Cheers & Jeers”, in Field and Stream, v 101, September, p 12:
      Any reader who uses the old “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, etc.” method to estimate distance to a storm, and doesn't get any further than a count of five to eight had better be in a safe shelter.
  • one hundred
    • 2008, Jeannette Graf, Alisa Bowman, Stop Aging, Start Living, p. 102:
      Mentally count how long it takes you to inhale (one one hundred, two one hundred. . .) and how long it takes you to exhale.
  • one thousand
    • 2004, Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, p. 397:
      One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. This was how they had been taught to count seconds back in third grade, and Miss Timothy, a lay teacher, had told them to put their heads on the desk and raise their hands when they thought a minute had passed.
  • potato
    • 2009, Ruth White, John D. Preston, Bipolar 101: A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with Symptoms, and More, page 125:
      Mentally count as you breathe in for five seconds: one-potato, two-potato, and so on until you get to five-potato, then blow out for five seconds, counting the same way (saying “potato” approximates a second).
  • thousand
    • 1961, New Mexico Magazine , Volume 39, p. 5:
      How does he know when three seconds have gone by? Try counting, "One-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand." That does it.
    • 2001, Keith Johnson, Physics for you: revised national curriculum edition for GCSE, p. 7:
      You can count seconds very roughly, without a watch, by saying at a steady rate: ONE (thousand), TWO (thousand), THREE (thousand), FOUR ....