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I was watching an episode of Friends where Ross talks about "counting mississippily". I did not get the joke. Why would someone say "Mississippi" after every number?

Is there some story behind it?

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I'm not sure, but I don't think the dots are part of the punctuation of the name, and are rather just a decoration in the logo. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 22 '10 at 15:05
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Great question; too bad none of the answers have any clues to the origin though. There must be countless words which can approximate one second, so why the name of a southern US state? –  tenfour Jul 12 '11 at 15:06
    
@tenfour: I did not think of that, neither do I know 'why missipy and not some other word'. Maybe you can ask that question and see if someone here knows.. –  Lazer Jul 12 '11 at 17:35
    
The name of that particular state is used just because it's a peculiar word, with perfectly lined-up, same-vowel syllables. Which sounds kind of funny, if you think about it, and is therefore a mnemonic device hard to forget. South has nothing at all to do with it. It's a school-kiddy thingamajig. You know, when they start to learn all the states. That adults use it too, proves that kids too sway some influence on the language. –  Talia Ford Sep 26 '13 at 3:22
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4 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Mississippi is one of several phrases used to approximate one second for the purposes of informal time keeping. That is, if you count to five "Mississippily", then you've counted five seconds. Outside North America, as you might image, this is usually not very common.

In English, I've heard several different methods of doing this. E.g.

  • Elephant i.e. "one-elephant, two-elephant", etc.
  • Postfixing 1000 to the number, i.e. "1-1000, 2-1000", etc.
  • Adding 1000 to the number, i.e. "1001, 1002", etc.

In other languages, they have similar constructs, but adjust for appropriate time. For example, in some German speaking areas, they just say "einundzwanzig" (German for 21) over and over. I find this one particularly interesting because they don't actually include the current count in the number, but rather must keep it in their head. I've heard of a variation where they start at 21 and go up. I'm not sure what happens when they hit 30, since it has substantially fewer syllables than 29.

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Over here (Israel) we use count twenty-one, twenty-two or Esrim Ve'Achat, Esrim Ve'Shtaim to estimate proper distance between yo and the car in front of you while driving –  JohnoBoy Nov 22 '10 at 7:10
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Interesting, I have never heard a German saying einundzwanzig over and over again. Every German I know counts einundzwanzig, zweiundzwanzig, dreiundzwanzig. The idea is that 4 syllables = roughly 1 second. Dreißig is a bit of a bummer, because it has only two syllables, but it gets counterbalanced by siebenunddreißig, which has five. Same for vierzig/siebenundvierzig, fünfzig/siebenundfünfzig, and so forth. Also, it is not uncommon in German to count Mississippis (ein Mississippi, zwei Mississippis...), though counting from 21 up is certainly more popular. –  RegDwigнt Nov 22 '10 at 9:11
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@RegDwight: If you count from ein Mississippi, what happens if you reach einundzwanzig Mississippis?! :) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 22 '10 at 15:17
    
I was told 'kodak' in my day.... –  CJM Nov 23 '10 at 11:53
    
The Danes count crates of beer (en kasse øl, to kasser øl, tre kasser øl, etc.), but the use is a bit more limited in English: it is only used when trying to figure out approximately how far away from you a lightning struck. For counting seconds in general, I think most people would just count regularly, but more slowly. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 25 '13 at 21:38
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Very good question! I've always assumed that it was for the purposes of spacing out numbers while playing hide-and-seek. If you don't ensure that the numbers are a good distance apart, then obviously the seeker just burbles "onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightninetennnnnnnnahundred... ready or not, here I come"!

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For us it used to be "One, two, miss-a-few, ninety-nine, A HUNDRED!" –  Benjol Nov 22 '10 at 5:44
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Sort of bad form to begin your answer with "I don't know..." –  Chris Dwyer Nov 22 '10 at 5:59
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@Chris Dwyer: what, you'd rather people didn't disclose when they were making an educated guess instead of being 100% absolutely certain of their answer? I'm just trying to build a world where honesty isn't a dirty word. Since (it seems that) my answer was neither misleading nor wrong, I don't really understand the problem you're having. –  thesunneversets Nov 22 '10 at 6:25
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@thesunneversets I agree with Chris on this. This is the place to post answers, not your assumptions. I think it would've been better if you would've posted this as a comment to the question –  JohnoBoy Nov 22 '10 at 7:07
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Perhaps, "I don't know" could been better phrased as "I'm not certain, but..", but I'm with thesunnerversets on this. We need more people offering their best answer with humility, and a lot less people so utterly convinced that their answer is irrefutable. If only 'correct' answers are required, why do we allow more that one answer per question? –  CJM Nov 23 '10 at 11:52
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People count "1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi" because that way your count includes the approximate seconds so that you can space out the numbers better. Otherwise you might count 1, 2, 3 too fast.

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The only time we ever used this to count was in touch football, as there being so many "Mississippi's before the defender(s) could charge the QB.

Try as one might, saying "one-Mississippi" faster than about a second is nigh impossible.

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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 25 '13 at 20:45

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