I've been re-reading 'Treasure Island' by Stevenson, and, at one point a character says, "... my pulse went dot and carry one" meaning, I think, that his pulse started racing.

Has anyone heard this idiom before? Can anyone tell me specifically to what it refers? The 'carry one' seems mathematical.

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    Is this what we call general reference? Googling easily brings up the answer. worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-dot1.htm
    – Jeremy
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 17:39
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    @simchona - posting the question here is my research.
    – bev
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 17:54
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    @bev: EL&U shouldn't be the first place you go. The reason for downvotes is that a question "does not show any research effort": please Google before asking future questions.
    – user10893
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 18:00
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    @bev: EL&U is not meant to be a complicated way of getting other people to google things for you. If you have googled or done other research, but have not found satisfactory results, please explain what you found and why it's unsatisfactory or else this question will be closed. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 18:16
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    Folks, Google is not general reference. Really. I certainly don't know of a generally-available reference source specifically designed to answer this type of question - dictionaries don't generally include random phrases.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 7, 2012 at 1:06

8 Answers 8


According to worldwidewords.org, "dot and carry one" (as used in the book) had implications that the heart skipped a beat. This would coincide with Barrie's answer about what the true meaning is. Referencing a Captain Francis Grose in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue from 1785, the site also offers an alternate explanation:

(Grose also mentions hopping-Giles as another slang term of the time for a person with a limp [...])

The notes provided at the end of an online version of the book seems to have come to the same conclusion defining the meaning as,

An irregular "thump, thump."

(An irregular pulse / heartbeat equates to a skipped beat. In other words, the character could have just said he/she felt heart palpitations.)


Dot and carry one is a technique used when adding numbers in a ledger. In effect you place a dot in the first column and then add a unit to the next column (known as carrying one).
Historically book keepers or accountants using pens would have made a ".1" (dot dash) sound when they updated their accounts, this sounds like a person with a limp or old fashioned prosthetic walking.
The metaphors is therefore likens the sound of a person walking with a limp or prosthetic to the "dot dash" sound a pen makes when a bookmaker adds numbers in a ledger.


I too had supposed it to be mathematical, but Brewer gives

An infant just beginning to toddle; one who limps in walking; a person who has one leg longer than the other.

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    While I'm sure OP is grateful for some kind of answer, I'm unsure how this "answer" answers OP's question. It doesn't explain what dot and carry one means in the context given. I find this answer to be incomplete and somewhat unsatisfactory.
    – Souta
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 4:59

"Dot and carry one" is found in the poem "Gunga Din" by Rudyard Kipling. Gunga Din is an Indian "Bisti", a servant who carried water for the troops, Kipling writes, referring to the Bisti carrying a water flask during a battle, "He would dot and carry one 'til the longest day was done, and he didn't seem to know the use of fear." I presume it meant that he scrambled to keep up with the troops. Jackaline Winspear (in the novel "Birds of a Feather," uses the term to describe her assistant, whose leg had been seriously wounded in WW I, coming up a flight of stairs. This would seem to mean that his step was irregular because he had to favor his wounded leg. Allen Peacock, April 8, 2019.


Many years ago I learned this ditty in northern England:

Dot and carry one Brown goes,
Everybody in town knows
To the Dog and Gun down goes he.
With his gammy leg stuck straight out before him

Sorry, I cannot remember the rest, as I say it was probably 70 years ago, but that was a term we used for someone with a pronounced limp. Maybe the dot was originally the mark or sound of a crutch or wooden leg, and then the other good leg was carried forward.

Margaret (aged 90) now in Powell River, B.C. Canada


The phrase "dot-and-carry-one" is used by Mary Stewart in Chapter 6 of her novel The Gabriel Hounds, published in 1967.

She wrote,

Then I recklessly dragged the bed away from the wall. It came across the cracked marble with a dot-and-carry-one screech of broken castors.

I take the "dot-and-carry-one" to mean that the bed moved in a series of bumps and shifts.

So I am thinking the pulse of the character in Treasure Island had become irregular - with longer than usual gaps between the beats, the "dot" being the beat and the "carry one" being the gap between beats.


My mother always used the expression when referring to someone who was somewhat less than sane, i.e., slightly doolally.

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    Hello Brutus. Anecdotal material is not considered suitable for an 'answer' on ELU; this would make a good 'comment'. But, as all of us have found, you can't 'comment' until you've amassed a few points. Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 19:06

I think "dot and carry one" is walking up stairs one step at a time. Stepping on the first step then bringing the other foot to join the first, then repeat all the way up.

  • It's certainly used in that context; I'm not sure it's the origin. Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 20:44

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