My last column marked (celebrated might be too strong a term) the 100th incidence of Complex Simplicity’s monthly publication. The attention often paid to anything involving the number 100 would typically result in kind of a let-down for this column, its direct successor. But instead, I believe it presents a one-time opportunity to explore our nearly equivalent fascination with all things one hundred and one.
One of the number’s most common usages refers to introductory university-level courses, commonly referred to as “one-oh-ones”: Biology 101, Economics 101, English 101, or less widespread offerings that sometimes seem to exist only to torture the parents paying exorbitant college tuition fees. Examples include ANI 101 (Animation for non-majors) at DePaul University, the University of Buffalo’s ES 101 (Taping and Wrapping Techniques) and GLY 101 (Natural Hazards), and Berkeley’s Spring 2019 offering—a Latin 101 class titled “Vergil.”
Despite the questionable necessity of a college course on animation or film studies, things aren’t as bad as they first seem. “Taping and Wrapping Techniques” is an exercise science class for binding injured athletes, not the guide to gift wrapping I first suspected (though the latter would have proved more useful in my thankfully quiet and injury-free life thus far). “Natural Hazards” might sound like a freshman’s guide to avoiding potentially dangerous situations like jaywalking or pledging a fraternity, but it’s actually a study of environmental issues like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. And as for Berkeley’s chosen spelling of the Aeneid author’s name, well, isn’t that something you’d just expect from Californians?
Accurate or not, “101” has become the standard indication of a body of teachable knowledge that encompasses the basics. Many book titles use 101 in this intro-course sense, like Lie Detecting 101 by David Craig or Hand Lettering 101 by someone called Chalkfulloflove. There are plenty of internet guides and tutorials that do the same; a quick search revealed Rock Climbing 101, Crime Scene Investigation 101, and similarly-numbered guides to hang gliding, macramé, earthquake hazards, and explosives. This column might have been called “101 101.” But there’s much more to 101 than just the basics.
Another use for 101, also common to book titles and internet links, has to do with marketing and human psychology; it’s the reason items are priced at $5.99 instead of $6, and the reason “This one goes to 11,” in This is Spinal Tap. We all want a little something extra, whether it’s a penny in our pockets, or “one louder” on an amplifier. Thus, we get 101 Juice Recipes—not just 100—101 Questions to Ask Before You Marry, and of course, 101 Dalmatians.
Compared with 101, 100 is just too round, too even, too hundredy. 101 is edgier—like 99, except less modest; it hints at greatness by being one over, instead of one under. It’s tastefully ambitious—going for 102 would be gauche, as exemplified by Disney’s live-action sequel, 102 Dalmatians. At least the animated movie had the sense to call its sub-par sequel 101 Dalmatians II.
But is it “one hundred and one” or “one hundred one”? That’s right, it’s time for 101 Pronunciation 101. Officially, the first example is considered British style, while we Americans are supposed to use the second. Call me a rebel, call me an Anglophile, but don’t call for “One Hundred One Dalmatians” in my presence. In this case, the American variant sounds snootier and stuffier than the British one, though the title of the 1956 book the movie was based on—by British author Dodie Smith—is heinously titled The Hundred and One Dalmatians.
At the other end of the 101 spectrum is the famous 101st Airborne Division, known for its combat exploits in World War II, Vietnam and elsewhere. The 101st Airborne Division Association gives the proper pronunciation of the group’s name as “One Hundred and First Airborne Division.” The 101st Airborne Division itself confirmed this, after checking with the protocol office. I’m certainly not going to tell them they’re wrong.
Sometimes, 101 can be pretty ominous, like in George Orwell’s book 1984, where Room 101 is the location of a torture chamber in which victims are confronted with their own worst fears. Equally ominous is the badly worded title of Jan Ormerod’s book 101 Things to Do With a Baby.
But typically, 101 is a natural pause or endpoint, a final carryover of the splendor of 100 before things revert back to the usual. By the time 102 comes along, the gloss of 101 has faded, and the excitement has ebbed. But there is another, more optimistic way of looking at things: maybe it’s better to see that next installment not as number 102, but as the first entry of the next 101.
Meanwhile, if you’ve reached this point in this column, congratulations—you’ve made it! Complex Simplicity 101 has reached its end, and you’ve all passed with flying colors.