phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Did a number on

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 04, 2010 at 18:19

In Reply to: Did a number on posted by Andria W on June 02, 2010 at 22:19:

: What is the origin of the phrase "did a number on myself"? As in "I really did a number on myself last night" indicating one was injured or something negative happened...

Since I couldn't find a derivaion, and since no one else has offered one, I'll make one up.

Ever since concerts and recitals began, the items in it have usually been printed in a program, with a number before each item. Other forms of short entertainments, like monologues, or the contents of a vaudeville show, would also be assigned a number in the program.

It became common to use such phrases as, "Mr. Smith did a number on the violin," meaning that he played a violin solo. Or a performer might say, "My next number will be an impression of Rodney Dangerfield," or some such. Or, "This was followed by a number on the harp."

It is not inconceivable to me that this language could be transferred to an altogether different type of entertainment. "Oh, yeah? Well, I'll just do my next number on your head!" Or, "Beating you up will be my next number."

I don't know if this is plausible to anyone else as an explanation of "He did a number on Fred." It has all the virtues of folk etymology. It answers the question without the slightest grounding in fact.
SS