Posted by R. Berg on January 18, 2002
In Reply to: Re: "Take a number" posted by Tiko on January 18, 2002
: : As in, "I would love to meet that sweet girl" ....
: : "Sure...take a number !"
: It means "Wait your turn" . Many bakery's have more customers waiting for service than help behind the counter. I'm sure you've seen small red plastic round-like boxes that dispense numbers for people to take and wait until "Their number is up" (another phrase from this situation). I remember when they first installed this contraption at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I went toward the counter for help and was told "Take a number, please and we'll call it when it's up". (Ok I lied they didn't say please.)
"To have one's number up" means to be in trouble or dead (both, I suppose, if the latter) and has a different origin: military, 20th century, acc. to Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English," which also says that "one's number is up" means "he won't live (being destined for death) or, less often, he is sure to be detected: the former a general colloquialism; the latter, military slang: C.20."