What Does 101 Mean in a Text?

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The Quick Answer

101 means "Basic Introduction' (as in "English 101") or "Laugh Out Loud." It can also refer to "Room 101" (from George Orwell's book 1984).

Basic Introduction

image for 101 as Basic Introduction, showing a classroom

The phrase "101" often means an introductory lesson or the basics of a subject, drawing from the college course numbering system where "101" courses are typically introductory. For example, "Computer Science 101" would be an introductory course in computer science. When used in chat, it's a way of saying that something is being explained at a fundamental or beginner level, like saying "let's start with the basics" or "here's a simple explanation." For example:

  • Toni: Where's your rod? Did you loosen the reel tension?
  • Jordan: No, I forgot.
  • Toni: That is a basic mistake. You need to attend Fishing 101 again!
The use of "101" in this context derives from the late 1920s, when US universities designed a numbering system for their lessons. The notation "101" breaks down as follows:
  • 1. The first "1" denotes the studying year. So, this is a first-year lesson.
  • 0. The "0" denotes the specific topic (with "0" being generic).
  • 1. The last "1" denotes the first lesson in the sequence.
Using this system, "Astronomy 213" would be the third lesson on topic "1" (let's say, Stars) for second-year students. By the 1980s, "101" had moved from academic institutional jargon and into popular slang. The term "101" now simply means something like "a beginner's guide."

Laugh Out Loud

image for 101 as Laugh Out Loud, showing the letters LOL

"101" can be used to mean LOL ("Laugh Out Loud"), simply because the numbers look like the letters. For example:

  • Lee: The cat sh*t on my mat...literally.
  • Bobby: 101!
Somewhat more imaginatively, 5 is also used for LOL because "101" in binary is 5. Even more imaginatively, 120 is sometimes used for "LOL!" because, in Mathematics, 5! is equivalent to 120. (5! represents "5 factorial," which is 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1.)

Room 101

image for 101 as Room 101, showing a torture chamber

Room 101, famously introduced in George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, symbolizes the ultimate chamber of horrors within the inappropriately titled Ministry of Love, where individuals are subjected to their worst fears as a method of torture and re-education. Orwell used Room 101 to explore themes of power, control, and the ultimate weapon against human spirit: the forced betrayal of one's own values and loved ones. The concept of Room 101 has since entered popular culture as a metaphor for the most unbearable kinds of personal torment. For example:

  • Jo: I'm not going to soccer practice! I need more sleep.
  • Jo's father: Do you know what Room 101 is?
  • Jo: No.
  • Jo's father: Google it. It's what your bedroom will become if you don't get up now!

Image for 101

When I write 101, I mean this:

meaning of 101

101 usually means "Basic Introduction," but it can mean "LOL" or refer to "Room 101."

Summary of Key Points

"Basic Introduction," is, by far, the most common meaning for 101 when it is used in a text. (Bear in mind that it could have another meaning if used in a different context.)
Definition:Basic Introduction
Guessability:guessability level 1
1: Easy to guess
Typical Users:typical user

Adults and Teenagers

Second Definition of 101

"Laugh Out Loud" is another common definition for 101.
Definition:Laugh Out Loud (LOL)
Guessability:guessability level 3

3: Guessable

Typical Users:typical user

Adults and Teenagers

Third Definition of 101

101 is used with the term "Room 101," which refers to the basement torture chamber in the Ministry of Love (from 1984 by George Orwell).
Definition:Basement Torture Chamber from "1984"
Guessability:guessability level 4

4: Difficult to guess

Typical Users:typical user

Adults and Teenagers

An Academic Look at 101

101 is a numeronym, which is an abbreviation made up of just numbers or of letters and numbers. They can be formed in various ways, such as:
  • Shortening a word by replacing a sequence of letters with the count of those letters (e.g., i18n for "internationalization" and a11y for "accessibility").
  • Combining letters and numbers (e.g, K9 for "canine" and W3 for "World Wide Web").
  • Using numbers to represent letters or words (e.g., 143 for "I love you," 637 for "always and forever," and 5201314 for "I will love you for a lifetime").

Using Numbers in Texts

This video shows the different ways that numbers are used in "text speak":

The Evolution of "LOL"

This video shows the evolution of the term "LOL" and the various laughing emojis:
What does LOL really mean?

Example of 101 Used in a Text

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