Watching Kipper with my son tonight, I was struck by the phrase "Ready, steady, go!" I don't often hear this sequence. In my upbringing, it has been mostly "On your mark, get set, go!"

I had thought the difference might be between British English and North American English, but when I search for "Ready Steady Go," I get a whole lot of unrelated hits related to music.

Is there a regional preference in the usage of these phrases to start a race, or are they perhaps associated with particular sports?

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    There is also "ready, set, go." – kiamlaluno Jul 11 '11 at 23:21
  • Also, it appears on your marks is sometimes plural, which sounds funny to me even though it makes sense (I think I usually have heard "on your mark" no matter how many runners). – aedia λ Jul 11 '11 at 23:51
  • Are we talking about races where the starter is a professional with a rule book in his/her hand, or an informal race where the starter simply tries to recall what he/she has heard others use? – pavium Jul 12 '11 at 0:04
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    @pavium I'd say informal. The "professional" races I've been in usually start with "Runners, take your marks." – Kit Z. Fox Jul 12 '11 at 1:48
  • I've heard on your mark often enough, but the singular always strikes me as a bit odd. The phrase invariably applies to multiple contestants; I assume each of them has their own mark, and the starter is addressing them collectively. So only marks really makes sense to me. – FumbleFingers Jul 12 '11 at 3:32

The Oxford learner's dictionary does indicate that there is a dialect difference for ready, steady, go (see idioms):

ready, steady, go! (BRITISH ENGLISH) (also (get) ready, (get) set, go NORTH AMERICAN ENGLISH, BRITISH ENGLISH) what you say to tell people to start a race

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  • That is what reported also from the OED. – kiamlaluno Jul 12 '11 at 1:10
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    +1. The first time I heard "Ready, steady, go" (I think from a TV show title) I was really confused until I figured out that was just how Brits say "Ready, set, go". – T.E.D. Jul 12 '11 at 12:06

I've always understood ready, steady (or set) go to be a more generic form of on your mark, get set, go, and I'd be inclined to use it in more relaxed situations perhaps. The latter feels more specifically like a race.

In athletics (back in school, in Australia) they used to drill us on the start of a foot race that on on your mark, you'd put your toe on the line, on get set, you'd crouch down (and stick your bum in the air), then go.

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I've always associated Ready, steady... primarily with [younger] children.

On your marks... (and more 'formally,professionally', Take your marks...) seem to me far more appropriate for older competitors.

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The terms are all derived from the start of a foot race:

"On your mark"/"Take your mark"/"Ready" - Get in your lanes, put your toes (or hands if using a starting block) on the line, and prepare to run/swim/skate/bike your butt off.

"Get set"/"Set"/"Steady" - Assume and hold your "launch" pose; this is different than simply "taking your mark", because in most races with this or a similar procedure, no movement is allowed by the runners between when this is said and when the gun goes off or "go" is called. In British colloquy, the term "wait for it" is a reference to a slight movement noticed by the starter but not severe enough to call a "false start"; it's less common in American parlance.

"GO"/(starter pistol fires) - haul your carcass.

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