What if the next bus speeding down the road had my number on

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Senior Member
Hello everyone,

I don't understand this sentence. "What if the next bus speeding down the road had my number on it?"

Here's the context.
On a recent afternoon while my four-year-old son was setting his Hot Wheels cars across the living room, he looked up and asked, "Mommy, when are you going to die?" I gently explained that most people die when they are either very old or very sick and that since I was young and healthy, I wasn't going to die for a long time. What if I was wrong? What if the next bus speeding down the road had my number on it?
I guess the writer is worrying if the bus would kill her, but why does it have to be a bus and the number? Why does a bus has her number?

Thanks in advance.
  • lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    This could be a complicated explanation, but I'll give it a try.

    This is a variation of when someone's "number is up" which is a euphemism for dying. The "number is up" is based on the business practice of having people who are waiting for service take a slip of paper with a number on it. When your number is called, it is your turn. Therefore, when someone's number is up, it is their turn to die.

    The bus isn't really anything but a potential cause of death. It could be a train, a bullet, or any from a long list of fatal causes. In your context, if the bus has Mommy's number on it, it means her number is up and it's her turn to die.

    Reuben Ranzo

    New Member
    English -- British
    Not disagreeing with lablady but I had already done this just before she posted!

    The mother's meaning was similar to the phrase about "a bullet with my name on it". A "bus with my number on it" would mean a bus that is destined to kill her. Another formulation of the same idiom is "when my number comes up", which also means "when I die". It was a common phrase in wartime Britain.

    I am speculating, but my guess is that the phrase originated in Britain in World War 2, when waiting in queues or waiting rooms was very common. You would be issued with a number on a small paper ticket and wait until your number was called. It would not have taken long for the idea of your number coming up to be ironically switched around to signify being killed.


    Senior Member
    Thank you very much, Reuben and lablady.
    I imagined that this has something to do with some city legend, in which if you die, a bus comes to you and take you to another world. But my guess seem to be wrong. "A bullet with my name on it" is convincing, I think.
    Thanks again for helping me to understand this somewhat puzzling expression.
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