The word “two” in the phrase refers to things that have been finished, while the word “one” references that which is yet to be finished. In other words, two things have been completed, and there’s one more thing left to do.
Example: I’m looking to collect three rare coins. They are worth a small fortune together, and so far I’ve collected two of them. So that’s two down and one to go. Soon my collection will be complete!
The Origin Of ‘Two Down, One To Go’
This phrase may come from sports. The reason is because the earliest writings of the phrase that I could come from the first half of the 20th century, and it’s pretty much always used within the context of sports.
This term is applicable to many different sports. For example, in baseball, the word “down” can be synonymous for “out.” A batter or base runner can be ruled as “out” by an umpire. If the team on defense gets three offensive players out, then the teams switch places. Hence, sometimes you might hear that the offensive team has two players down, and one to go.
The expression, used in relation to baseball, can be seen in the Olean Evening Herald, June 1922, where a recent game had finished and a recap of it was given:
“The visiting Stars again tied the score in the seventh with two down and one to go.”
The phrase is also used in the sport of golf, appearing in Des Moines Daily News, June 1919, to describe the number of holes left:
“In defeating Walker Jr., youthful star from Staten Island was pushed to the utmost reaching the final hole of the day with the youngster two down, one hole to go.”
- I’m attempting to go three weeks without eating anything with a lot of sugar in it. So far, I have two weeks down and there’s one more to go.
Note: The origins of phrases and sayings, much of the time, are completely unclear. The origins you see listed are the plausible theories floating around for how or where an idiom came from. The quotes which have the phrase in them are the oldest written forms of the phrase I could find. However, keep in mind that it’s possible older recordings exist and I am unaware. If you find an earlier citation than what is listed on here, feel free to let me know.
Also, if you see a saying in an old book or newspaper and it’s being quoted on here, this does not mean it originates from that source. Honestly, if an expression is already being used in a book or newspaper, then it’s probably already an established one. Nevertheless, these quotes serve as a way to show the reader how far back in history these sayings go.