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Victorian Slang of the Week


A-one, a-number one –first class, exceptional—1846—This one surprised me.  I always thought A-1 was a 20th century phrase, but apparently not.  It seems to have been used through much of the century, as in “She was the a number one apple pie baker in the county”


I wrote all of these up at the beginning of the year, but since I keep studying I find out new things.  I may be doing a few of these update. . .or add some words here and there.

Synonym to A Number One–Crack: first-rate; exceptionally good; fancy high-class. . . A crack hotel, a crack boat.   Apparently first used around 1791, but seems to be part of regular (slang) language from about 1841 on.



  1. I have to agree with you. I would definitely think of this phrase as originating in the 20th century.

    Who knew? LOL.

  2. carolyndee says:

    Dee, If I had been guessing, I would have said around 1920 or so for that phrase. What a surprise! Thanks for keeping us updated. Isn’t the evoluition of language interesting? I just did a mini-article on the subject for the Yellow Rose March newsletter on just the words that have changed in my lifetime–like catalog/ue and potato/e. Remember the Dan Quayle debacle when he told the kid he’d misspelled potato because there was no E on the end?

  3. Interesting, Dee. The “English through the Ages” book (Brohaugh) writes it as A1, in use by 1840. I never would have guessed, either!

    I wonder what the origin was?

  4. Denise Eagan says:

    My liittle book (by little I mean huge–1006 pages) says it originated from Lloyd’s rating of ships, “in first-class condition”. The first written reference my book has is:

    1846 [Codman] Sailor’s Life 195: Cook,…do you consider yourself “A.1” in your profession?

    The next reference (1859) seems to be collegiate (Prof at Breakfast Table) and the following (1877) Western (Deadwood Dick), so it really does seem to be all over the U.S. pretty quickly.

    Interesting it’s first reference is A1. I wonder if it feels “modern” to us because of the steak sauce? 🙂

  5. Shipping, hunh. Thank you–I love this stuff!

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