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One can often see expressions like "Biology 101". Also in in book and article titles like "Wine tasting 101." What does this mean? Does this have something to do with a class one takes? Can it mean something outside of registering for a class?

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It is a reference to the introductory lecture course on many topics (particularly those that are very large, e.g. chemistry, physics). It means that the course is a basic course designed to teach you the beginnings and some of the fundamental components of the topic.

This reference has been adopted into the English lexicon to mean the basic rules and practices which every participant in that activity is expected to know and follow: "Not sleeping with the Ambassador's daughter is Diplomacy 101," "Wearing a lab coat and glasses is Lab Safety 101."

As was pointed out below, the first number in 'topic 101' is often to indicate that the course is recommended to be taken in the first year of a degree, reflecting its introductory nature. By contrast 'ENGL 462' would typically be taken in later years. This nomenclature is not universal in this application, courses can be numbered, lettered or alphanumerically coded as well, and sometimes 'topic 101' is the basics of a very advanced topic, so not truly a basic course.

Edit: added contributions from comments

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    By extension, it means the basic rules and practices which every participant in an activity is expected to know and follow: "Not sleeping with the Ambassador's daughter is Diplomacy 101". – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 16 '14 at 17:48
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    I would add that this system is not universal, even within the same university systems in the U.S.— one institution's "Psychology 101" may be "Psychology 1A" or "Psychology I" or "Psychology 10" at another. The idiom, however, is Psych 101 to indicate that you are speaking metaphorically about how basic the knowledge of psychology is, as opposed to the actual material of a course. – choster Jun 16 '14 at 18:07
  • Agree with @choster - with one extra comment: many institutions use the first digit of a course number to indicate an approximate year when a course would taken (I'd expect ENGL 117 to be filled with mostly freshman, while ENGL 462 would have mostly upperclassmen). Moreover, the "101" designation is often used for the most basic course under a specific subdomain: CHEM 101 would likely be a basic Intro to Chemistry class; COMP 101 might be a Intro to Programming class. I think many academics would be surprised to learn that, at some school, PHYS 101 was, say, Advanced Topics in Antenna Design. – J.R. Jun 16 '14 at 19:28
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    Please note I updated the question. The point of the question (which was not obvious at first) is a broader understanding of how "101" is used in English. – CoolHandLouis Jun 17 '14 at 9:15

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