MadSci Network: Other

Re: what is wrong with the numbers 11 and 12?

Date: Mon Jan 28 06:38:56 2008
Posted By: David and John Free, Post-doc/Fellow, MFA, MFA
Area of science: Other
ID: 1200096828.Ot

Hi Phil

What is "wrong" with them is they are one and two bigger than we can 
count on our fingers.

These language conventions were settled long before writing, when numbers 
were only spoken and then seldom. Few families had possessions and few had 
more than twelve children alive at any one time.
Only much later (in each civilisation) did scribes begin to keep records 
(such as the Domesday Book in the UK) and need bigger numbers and a 
standard way to speak and spell them - independent of dialect. Remember, 
in those days very few of modern-day countries existed - they were just 
the estates of separate barons and chiefs.

The languages you say you know probably were derived from a common 
language that DID "start being logical" at 13. This is NOT SO in French 
(even though most French comes from Latin). In modern French we have onze 
for 11 and so on (very logical) up to 16 and then it breaks into "someone 
else's idea of logical" "Dix-huit, dix-neuf" then vingt. And eighty is 
the very logical (but DIFFERENT-logical) quatre vingts.
In the Bible you will find "four score and ten" and in English "four and 
a half dozen". 

The ancient astronomer civilisations used to count "base 60" so may well 
have had 60 different words. Also until the ancient Indians invented the 
number 0 (zero) nobody could write 10,11,12 as a PAIR of digits, so the 
idea of writing a pair of words, like your oneteen, twoteen would have 
been considered very strange indeed.

It was only when writing became common that any standard number system 
was required and by then it was "too late" to get common people to change!
For common people the most practical use of numbers was counting and 
SHARING. So for THEM logical would be 6 is called two-three and 8 is 
called two-two-two, because that is how it can be "shared out".


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