Posted by ESC on March 01, 2008 at 11:52:
In Reply to: Did a number posted by Kramtronix on March 01, 2008 at 10:19:
: I'm looking for some definition for the phrase, "did a number." I've heard it used in synonymous fashion with total consumption and demolition. For example, "Wow! You really did a number on that grouper sandwich."
One reference says it dates back to the 1960s and originated in Black English. ("Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006. Page 104) A second reference also says it dates to the 1960s and originally meant "to deceive" but later softened to mean "'to affect' though usually in a devious way." And that the first meaning derives "from the old vaudeville days, when acts were called numbers because they were numbered on theater programs. The meaning evolved from an act to a pretense and then to an outright deception." ("The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File, New York, 1997. Page 207. If I was guessing, I would have said it had to do with a con.