Query: "I've got your number."

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 17 14:57:51 UTC 2010

Actually, it's neither--what I understand form the context, it refers
to the actual NUMBERS, as in "data", provided by the witness. In some
cases it's an accounting document with monetary figures, or an
administrative document with the number of employees or recruits, etc.
It is these NUMBERS that are referred to as YOUR NUMBER.

As for baseball players wanting each other's numbers, I suspect that
Wellington's usage WRT regiment numbers predates them by close to a
century (early players were less preoccupied with the numbers--in
fact, I wonder when the numbering system on uniforms entered sports).

Still, I suspect that I made it too complicated. Given that the
educated classes were pretty closely identifiable with the cab-riding
classes, the cab number likely was most influential in establishing
the expression "got your number" even if other uses might have

Here's the earliest I found (after Wellington's dispatches of 1815
that were not published until the 1830s--1834-1849, to be more
precise). Note the connection to Dickens (editor), who also used the
phrase later in his works.

Bentley's Miscellany. October, 1841
Donnybrook Fair, By Dillon. p. 360
'Well, Pether an' I wint up to Stephen's Green, an' there we got a
car, ov coorse, that wur goin' down to Donnybrook. "Fourpence
a-piece," sis the man, "an' aff at once."--"That'll do, sir," sis
Pether, an' so up we got, wid four men more on the seats, an' two in
the well o' the car, which oughtn't to carry only four altogether ;
an' indeed the horse seemed to think he'd got his number. But cruelty
to animals wasn't minded then, whin people were goin' down to "The

Here's Alcott's use.


Aunt Jo's Scrap-bag. My girls, etc. By Louisa May Alcott, 1883 (Copyright 1877)

[p. 28]  We had no engaged a carriage to come for us, knowing that a
cab-stand was near by, and that a cab would be much cheaper than the
snug broughams ladies usually secure for evening use.
Out flew the little maid to get us a cab, and we hurried on our wraps
eager to be gone. ...
[p. 29] ... being independent Americans ... we ... bundled in, gave
the address ... and away we went.
[p. 35] "Young man, if you don't wake up and take us to Colville
Gardens as quickly as possible, I shall report you tomorrow. I've got
your number, and I shall get my friend, Mr. Peter Taylor, of Aubrey
House, to attend to the matter. He's an M. P., and will see that you
are fined for attempting to drive a cab when you know nothing of

And here's one Wellington bit.

The Dispatches of Field Marshall The Duke of Wellington, During His
Various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low
Countries, and France. London, 1847
The Waterloo Campaign. p. 117
To Lieut. Gen. Sir G. L. Cole, G.C.B.      Bruxelles, 2nd June, 1815
I wish I could bring everything together as I had it when I took leave
of the army at Bordeaux, and I would engage that we should not be the
last in the race ; but, as it is, I must manage matters as well as I
can, and you may depend upon it that I will give you as many of your
old troops as I can lay my hands upon. I saw the 23d the other day,
and I never saw any regiment in such order. They were not strong, but
it was the most complete and handsome military body I ever looked at.
I shall find it very difficult to get Gen. Colville to part with it.
However, I will do what I can. In the mean time I will settle nothing
about the command of the two divisions till you or Sir T. Picton shall
I feel your partiality to your old number, which also shall be
gratified if I can do it without hurting the feelings of others, who
have already got your number. It is a sympom of the old spirit we had
amongst us, than which we cannot have a better.


On Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 10:30 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> What about house number on your street?  "I know where you
> live."  When did houses begin to be given numbers, in England or the
> U.S.?  (Not in the first half of the 18th century, in New
> England.  But by the time of Sherlock Holmes.)
> As for Victor's (5), instead of the witness's number, is this a
> document number or case number?  In the 17th century court records in
> Massachusetts, cases were numbered, presumably for cross-referencing
> when there were intervening records (e.g., depositions taken one
> session, trial at a later session).
> And of course baseball players who want a former star's old number.
> Joel
> At 3/17/2010 01:59 AM, victor steinbok wrote:
>>5) Very common references in British Commissions (Royal/Parliamentary)
>>who, while questioning witnesses, would respond to submitted records
>>(usually in advance, with copies held by witnesses) with "I've got
>>your number." I am not quite sure why it's "number" and not "numbers",
>>but that's what's on record. Of course, I did not search for "numbers"
>>so such references may be even more numerous. The bottom line is that
>>it was the same turn of phrase and used during the same period.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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