Origin of "got it in one"

A colleague replied “got it in one” in an email to me, indicating that I had guessed correctly about the reason behind something she had done. My boss, a highly intelligent man, had to ask me what she meant. That got me thinking that I didn’t know the origin of the phrase, which seemed common enough to me.

A Google search turned up only one reference to it having originated in the US around 1930, without any further discussion or citation. So, turning to the word mavens of the Dope: Does anyone know the origin of the phrase and whether it originally referred to something specific (some game or sport, perhaps)? As always, citations rather than folk etymologies preferred.

I think of it as British. This book suggests it came from the US, then caught on in the UK. It probably faded out here and stayed on over there. Pop culture customs change more slowly in Britain.

What actually originated it would take some digging. Any transitory fad from the 1930s - especially from America - is good and lost today.

Almost certainly British/Irish/Scots as all the early uses I can find in Google Books examples showing up in the late teens, early 20s. British writers writing fiction.

Is this not simply a golf reference? As in a hole in one?

I always figured it was from the game Twenty Questions.

“I’m thinking of a sea-faring man.”

“Does he originate in a movie?”


“Captain Jack Sparrow.”

“Got it in one.”

That was my first thought. My second one was being given a certain amount of guesses to get something correct (like 20 questions, or “I’ll give you 3 guesses, and the first two don’t count”), and getting it on the first try. It is a facetious way of saying you guessed the obvious.

I see I was ninja’d on the second.

Wrong thread, sorry.

I always thought it was from “Name that Tune.” Obviously a good bit older than that. Huh.

Just checking in briefly – work and family will keep me away from the Dope for a little while. Thanks for all the ideas so far.

This was my association, as well.

I always thought it was a moviemaking metaphor, as in “got in one take.”

I’ve only heard it after telling someone they have three guesses to figure something out. They got it in one question.

This strikes me as a construction so simple and obvious that it can’t have a specific origin. There are innumerable things that humans do that, typically, take a few tries. In any of these, a particularly skilled, insightful or lucky attempt is noticeable; nobody needs a precedent to make an observation about that.