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In phrases like:

1 "Wine 101"

2 "Microsoft Excel 101"

according to that source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101_(number)

the number 101 refer to introductory level of learning or a collection of introductory materials to a topic

if 101 is being used as adjective, shouldn't be come before the noun? like:

101 Wine

or

101 Microsoft Excel

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  • 1
    The number is part of the name., like Chanel No 5. Even if it were not, there is no absolute requirement in English to place adjectives ahead of the the nouns they modify. A man, stout, red-faced and out of breath, hammered on our door. Sep 11 at 14:32
  • 1
    In AmE, when referring to a basic level of knowledge we say: the area (history) followed by 101. 101= a course in x. As a title, the 101 comes second, the subject area first: English Grammar 101.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11 at 15:03
  • 20
    I don't think "part of speech" labels such as "adjective, noun,..." are particularly useful when trying to understand usages like Wearing a lab coat and glasses is Lab Safety 101. Just file them under idiomatic usages and don't try to "deconstruct" them any further. Sep 11 at 16:55
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22

The "101" here is part of a fixed formula meaning "an introductory or basic course in some topic". Most usages would use it as a title, not part of a sentence, so the part of speech is unclear.

This usage of "101" comes from a naming scheme used in many US universities for naming classes:

  • The subject the course belongs to
  • A first digit representing the academic level, where "1" is the simplest / introductory level
  • Additional digits to distinguish multiple courses at a similar level

Because US degree programs generally allow students to take a wide variety of courses, particularly in their first year, there are many courses which are an introduction to a particular area of study. These are assigned names like "Biology 101", or "Artificial Intelligence 101".

That has led to a popular usage (particularly in the US) of the template "Topic 101" as a short-hand way to say that something is a beginner's introduction of some sort.

Similar postfix labels are often used in product names, such as "Peugeot 208", "Chanel Number 5", or "Pimm's Number 6".

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  • 2
    What you say is true. However, Wine 101 is a title, like a course: Introduction to European History (101). But we could also say; I took a 101 course in European history.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11 at 15:06
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    @Kevin I have encountered 4-digit class numbers frequently enough, but in the US I've never personally seen or heard of number-only class identifiers. Instead, it's almost always "XXXX NNN(N)", such as "ENGL 101" or "MATH 4321". Sep 12 at 0:24
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    @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic-: You're right, that does appear to be what my college actually does (it's been a few years). However, they have no standard number reserved for "this is the intro course." So for example, Intro to Biology is BIOL 1010, Computer Science I is CSCI 1100, and some subjects start in the 2000's or higher (because they don't really offer a full four-year course in those subjects, just a bunch of secondary electives etc.).
    – Kevin
    Sep 12 at 0:35
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    @Mari-LouA Lexicographers like to classify things, and adjective is the category that fits closest. But actual users of the language don't go around thinking "I'm going to use the adjective 101 here", they just follow the template, which is why I say it's not a "natural" adjective.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 12 at 19:40
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    @Mari-LouA I think there's a certain amount of reverse engineering happening here - like the verb "to lase" being invented from the acronym "LASER". You can re-analyse "101" as an adjective and say "it is very 101", or (as suggested elsewhere on this page) re-analyse as a noun and say "it is the 101 of X". Most usages though do neither, they just use it as an invariant form, which isn't produced by any normal rules of grammar, because it comes from an artificial coding system.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 12 at 19:58
14

In this case, “101” is not an adjective but part of a proper noun (aka name). This is no different from the numbers in “Terminator 2”, “Chapter 5” or “Henry VIII”.

“101” in particular references the convention of US colleges to name courses by their department and course number within that department. So, “Math 101” would be course number 101 in the Math department. Within that convention, the first digit of the number signifies the year number of the typical student, and the following two digits are usually assigned sequentially as courses are created. The first course created for first-year students in every department is naturally an introductory course, so this led to “Subject 101” being applied outside a college context, and that in turn became so common that now even people who’ve never attended college will recognize it.

Also, while it doesn’t apply here, do note that adjectives can come after nouns; it’s not as common today as it was centuries ago, but it’s sometimes still done for literary or poetic effect.

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    @Astralbee Nor is "Microsoft Excel 101" referring to the 101st version of "Microsoft Excel", it's part of the name for a different reason, as is the "Indy 500" example in your own answer.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 11 at 15:40
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    @Astralbee: A good many people have names that differ from what may be recorded on birth certificates or other official documents.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 11 at 23:13
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    That numeric suffix does appear on birth certificates, @Astralbee. For example, it's on mine. Sep 12 at 3:38
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    @Astralbee Not every name consists of exactly one first name, exactly one family name, and zero or more middle names. Calling someone's name "ridiculous" because it doesn't fit the pattern you expect is frankly rather rude. It's perfectly possible that the birth certificate in question makes no such rule, and simply asks for the full name, and that name has been entered with a numeral suffix; or maybe the suffix is common enough in that area that it asks for it in a separate field.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 12 at 10:02
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    @IMSoP Indeed, that names fit no assumption at all is (or should be) database design 101. -- And yet we encounter all these forms that assume a middle initial, assume that the family name is the "last" name, assume that there is a given and a surname at all, that there are common name parts among members of the same family, the the length is limited, that it can be transcribed (let alone in a unique way!) in the latin alphabet, ... Sep 12 at 17:46
7

Is the number 101 being used as adjective?

No, it's used as a noun.

shouldn't be come before the noun? like:

101 Wine

Add the word "of" in between the words "101" and "Wine". "101 of Wine" would essentially mean "basics of Wine".

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  • to add the word 'of' between 101 and Wine was a genial way to think :) Sep 12 at 13:37
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    @EulerHenriquePintoAraujoVa Sure, just like "500 of Indy" or "43 of bus" or "101.3 of FM".
    – Kaz
    Sep 13 at 12:40
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    @Kaz I'm assuming you're being sarcastic, simply because you wouldn't use it that way. Quite why you addressed your comment at the poor person who's trying to learn English, rather than the person whose answer you are disagreeing with, I don't know.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 13 at 13:17
  • @IMSoP In StackExchange comments, if the @ notation is directed at the author of the answer, it is redundant.
    – Kaz
    Sep 13 at 15:43
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    @Kaz That's not what you did though, you addressed it to the person who asked the question.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 13 at 17:53
5

As you mentioned, a dictionary will tell you that '101' is used as an adjective. Cambridge Dictionary states that it signifies "the most basic knowledge about a subject".

Numbers are often adjectives, especially ordinal numbers, and there are different ways of using numbers that can see them placed before, or after the noun. For example "room 2" in a hotel could also be described as "the second room". A movie sequel may be called something like 'Titanic 3', because it is the third Titanic movie. The 'Indy 500' is a 500-mile race that takes place in Indiana. So it isn't unusual that we use '101' as a suffix.

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    101 Easy Recipes means one hundred and one easy recipes. "Easy Recipes 101" is a beginner guide to cooking.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11 at 15:05
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    @IMSoP I didn't say it was an example of it, I stated that is the origin of it. But I've taken it out as it was clearly misleading people who may skim-read.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 11 at 15:07
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    @Astralbee It isn't the origin of it, though, and if it was, it wouldn't explain its use as a suffix. See other answers on this page for the real origin.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 11 at 15:09
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    @Astralbee No, that is yet another coincidental use of the number, from George Orwell's 1984. It is apparently named after a real conference room in BBC Broadcasting House, which in turn was probably "the first room on the first floor". Let's not get into the realms of numerology by trying to connect everything with "101" in it; the examples in the question are clearly referencing the US university usage.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 11 at 15:19
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    @Astralbee That is simply not true. If anything, "Room 101" is a code of the same style as the course codes we're talking about here, but that is not about being "one more than 100", or "more pleasing than 102", it's a coding system where the first digit has a meaning - the first year of university, or the first floor of a building. The codes aren't actually numbers at all - a building with 3 floors of 6 rooms might have "room 306", but clearly doesn't have three hundred rooms. Your recipe example is true, but utterly unrelated to the question.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 12 at 9:27
5

I think the point several other answers are missing is that, in your example, "Wine" is the name of a college course, not the name of something one drinks. "Wine 101" is understood to be an introductory course or information on wine, whereas "Wine 410" is understood to be an advanced course or information on wine. The difference is the number, thus the number is an adjective.

Since the number, 101 or 410, modifies the meaning of the noun, Wine, it'd be an adjective.

If we were talking about bottles of wine in a store, you could probably find brands that use numbers in their name. I recall some Australian wines like this from last time I visited a wine store. In this case the number would be part of a noun.

Whether an adjective should come before or after the noun is flexible.

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    As I commented elsewhere, I think this is at best reverse-engineering a possible grammar based on usage of the template. You first have to analyse "wine" as short for "wine course" or "wine tutorial", and can then declare "101" to be an adjective modifying it. I think it's equally possible to say that "101" is short for "101 course" etc, and that wine is modifying that - in which case "101" is functionally a noun. Probably some speakers use it one way and some the other ("that's extremely 101" would be a clear adjective; "the 101 of wine" in another answer is a clear noun), and some neither.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 13 at 8:11
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    @IMSoP can we use it with a determiner e.g "the 101", as we do with other nouns? E.g. the problem, an accident, no defence, some roads, few numbers etc. If 101 were a proper noun then it should stand alone without anyone needing to ask "A 101 what?" If it's not a proper noun it should be countable. Asking "How many 101s are there?" will make sense. Does it? You define "101" as a template, I think the terminology is snowclone but the more I reflect the more I think adjective is the right answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 13 at 12:39
  • @Mari-LouA According to at least one contributor on this page, the answer to your first question is "yes". I think you'd need to spend some time collecting contemporary informal uses before you could reach any conclusion; so far, all the assertions on this page are based on personal experience rather than any such study.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 13 at 13:15
  • @IMSoP - language changes organically over time. When universities introduced "course-name number" syntax your point that 'you first have to analyse "wine" as short for "wine course" or "wine tutorial"...' would have applied. Currently, for some time, the meaning of "Wine" in "Wine 101" or "Wine 401" is commonly understood to mean a course on wine. The language has evolved, yes? Consider Physics courses. Phys 101 is physics but likely Newton's Laws, whereas Phys 610 is still physics but maybe Quantum Field Theory. The number doesn't really tell us anything except level of complexity.
    – Eric M
    Sep 13 at 19:52
  • @EricM I think you misunderstood me. I'm not saying that noun actually used to be there, or that it's needed for speakers to understand the sentence. I'm saying that if, as a linguist, you wanted to analyse "101" as an adjective, you couldn't say it was modifying "wine", because that would make "wine 101" a type of wine. So, within that linguistic analysis, there is presumably a hidden noun for the adjective to modify, like "course". I don't for one minute think any speaker consciously goes through that analysis, but then we mostly don't consciously think about grammar at all.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 14 at 8:26
0

A few days ago I read an article about illegal baby names in the United States. It is quite curious because there are states in the country where names like: King, Queen, Jesus Christ, III or 1069 are prohibited ...

Now that I have read your query I have thought about whether it would be possible to call a baby: 101 baby, meaning "basics of baby".

Joking aside, I think 101 can be understood both as a noun and as an adjective, since despite being a number, it is also a concrete concept.

In college I had to do math 101 and 102 the first year and math 301 and 302 during the third. These numbers were to aclarate the year and the difficulty of the subject.

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