Posted by Smokey Stover on October 24, 2007
In Reply to: Number one posted by RRC on October 23, 2007
: : I have a tiny datum to offer regarding the etymology of the phrase "looking out for number one". In "The Life of Erasmus reduced from the larger work of Dr. Jortin by A. Laycey" , page 84, I found the following text:
: : "In Luther's opinion, it seems, a man concerned with the administration of public affairs who did not take due care of number one, and help himself out of the basket, was a black swan or white crow, or a patriot from Utopia."
: : This may be an early use of the phrase "looking out for number one". I could not find any references to the phrase in your archives, so perhaps this has some value.
: ...except there's no "looking out for". etymonline.com (for what it's worth) says this sense of "number one" dates back to 1704. Perhaps someone with OED access can supply some cites.
The first citation from the OED is "1705 T. PITT Let. 23 Feb. in W. Hedges Diary III. p. xcix, The Knight I doubt not, but 'tis very careful of number one, and looks no further." The other citations are all in the same sense.