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When starting some activity, I've heard something like 'Se..inou... ' (I'm not sure what are the specific words for this). The context for this word I'd think is pretty much the same as when saying 1,2,3 start! in English.

Actually, is it just some sound or is it a word? Is there a story behind this?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

It is used to do something simultaneously. "Together on 2... one, two!"

「せーの」 is used the most.

You can hear せーのーで or いっせーの for 3 "beats"

Variations will apparently depend on regions and dialects, but 「せーの」looks like a national standard.

The stories and origins are multiple and vague. I'll just list what I've heard:

  • いっせーの comes from the French "Hisser" used by French soldiers during the Meiji Restoration.
  • いっせーの comes from the word 一斉に meaning simultaneously
  • Or simply comes from 一、二の三 (1, 2, three!)

I cannot confirm which one is the real origin or if there are others...

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Because some people are used to せーの and others are used to せーのーで, the phrase can sometimes fail unless you negotiate which phrase you use beforehand. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 16 '11 at 2:14
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