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I note that the exclamation せ〜の is quite frequently used, in a manner similar to how we use "ready, go!" in English. I'm curious about its etymology: where does せ〜の come from?

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せーの is a form of expression when shouting or calling (with enthusiasm), which can also be found as せえの, いっせいのせ or いっせーのせ and いっせーのーで. Regarding the origin of expression, there are several threads in Japanese that have been quoted as following.

From this thread on 教えて!goo, the best answer noted that the expression was derived from the word 'hisser' in French.

2002/02/07 11:36

語源はフランス語の  hisser [ise] 引き上げる から来ています。

これは明治政府が軍隊を作ったとき、ヨーロッパ諸国をお手本にしたのですが、海軍はフランスを真似たため。帆船の帆を張るとき、「イセー、イセー」と言いながらロープを引っ張るのですが、それも海軍用語として取り入れました。 それが長い間に「イセー→イッセー→いっせーの→せーの」と訛っていったのでしょう。

From this post on Jackyのホーム, the blogger has noted similarly that it was indeed derived from a French word 'hisser' (pronounced 'ise') and the meaning is "to pull out/up" (or "to hoist, to raise" according to hisser on Wiktionary).

June 11 [Wed], 2008, 16:10

[...] でも、なんで「せーの」っていうんでしょう。 調べてみると、「せーの」の語源はフランス語のhisser(イセーと発音)にあるようです。意味は「引き上げる」。 [...]

Note that above sources had cited no reference for the explanation, which may suggest that the etymology is lacking historical evidence. No further information on Wikipedia, except いっせーのーで was mentioned briefly in the Japanese article 手を用いた遊び.

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    'Hisser' is used in the navy typically to say "hissez haut" / "hisse et ho", which means "to pull up the sails" (and therefore: go). – tricasse Mar 12 '17 at 13:41
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There seems to be several different theories, but the most prevailing one is that it came from French hisser ("to hoist").

『せーの』の語源
明治政府が軍隊を作ったとき、ヨーロッパ諸国をお手本にしたのですが、海軍はフランスを真似たため。帆船の帆を張るとき、「イセー、イセー」と言いながらロープを引っ張るのですが、それも海軍用語として取り入れました。それが長い間に「イセー→イッセー→いっせーの→せーの」と訛っていったのでしょう。

A similar word of the same etymology is オーエス.

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