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HAD WE ALL EVOLVED WITH SIX DIGITS on each appendage (such polydactyly is one of the most common congenital abnormalities), we’d likely have a “dozenal” number system. Ancient Egyptians, John Quincy Adams and George Bernard Shaw, among others, advocated this. However, the base-ten system won out.
True, there are other examples beyond dozens, particularly in sexagesimal (base-60) thinking: seconds per minute, minutes per hour. But our evolution of language also favored base-ten, as shown in a book I’m (slowly) working my way through: Historical Linguistics, by Winifred P. Lehmann, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962.
My original attraction to Professor Lehmann’s work was based on learning more about Lithuanian being the closest modern language to Sanskrit. But there are scads more tidbits lurking in this dense textbook than simply this. Take, for example, the numbers one through ten.
Sanskrit Ekas, English One. The first digit shows up in Greek as ένας, (Lehmann’s transliteration heîs). Latin ūnus isn’t far adrift, whence our word “unit.” Our “one” derives from Gothic ains (akin to modern German eins).
Sanskrit Dvā, English Two. Sanskrit has Greek and Latin pals, δύο (Lehmann’s dúō) and duo, respectively. Our English “duet” is a kin, though again our “two” is related to Gothic twai (and to the Scot’s “Twa Corbies”).
Sanskrit Trayas, English Three. Greek and Latin, respectively, τρία (Lehmann: treîs) and trēs; our “trio,” “triangle,” etc. Lehmann’s Gothic is þrija, its first letter the “th” sound of “ye olde shoppe.”
Sanskrit Catvāras, English Four. Greek τέσσερις (Lehmann: téttares) and Latin quattuor are moving toward modern French quatre. The Gothic fidwor gave us “four.”
Sanskrit Pañca, English Five. Lehmann offers a close Greek πέντε pénte (whence our “pentagon”) and Latin quīnque (also French cinq). Again, Gothic fimf gave us “five.”
Sanskrit Ṣaṭ, English Six. Here, even the Goths agreed: saihs. Others are Latin sex and our “six.” An oddity is Greek έξι héks and our related “hexagon.”
Sanskrit Sapta, English Seven. Again, the Greeks go off-tangent with εφτά (Lehmann’s heptá leading to our “heptane” hydrocarbon). Latin septum, Gothic sibun, and our “seven” follow Sanskrit suit.
Sanskrit Aṣṭa, English Eight. Familiar linguistic ground: Greek οκτώ okto, Latin octō, Gothic ahtau, our “octopus” and, not far off, “eight.”
Sanskrit Nava, English Nine. Again, no oddities: Greek εννέα ennéa, Latin novem, Gothic niun, and our “nine.”
Sanskrit Daśa, English Ten. Another Greek/Latin pair: δέκα déka and decem, respectively; another Gothic/English pair: taihun and “ten.” Of course, we have lots of “deca” words.
Extra points: How come September through December are our ninth through twelfth months? Hint: It’s only vaguely related to polydactyly. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023
Because in the original Roman calendar the new year started on March 25 (the Ides of March). Although the Roman’s did make a change back in the early centuries of the current era (CE), the Gregorian calendar was only changed in 1752. So say in 1750, March 24, 1750 was followed by March 25, 1751.
A good, but also somewhat confusing article can be found at https://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/hg/colonialresearch/calendar.
And then there are computers that speak in base 16 (hexadecimal), a natural extension of the base 2 binary of transistors 0,1 (basically on/off). I believe that some earlier computers used Octal numbers (0-7), but I bet that if we had sixteen fingers we’d have number symbols for our counting instead of the 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F used in hexadecimal numbers (hex code).
Yes, sabresoftware, I recall hexadecimal from my brief encounters years ago with machine language. It’s a lot easier to have 331 base ten expressed as 14B base 16 than 101001011 base 2.
With regard to Julian/Gregorian matters, see my modest attempt at
“Changing Times? Add a Zero at Each End.”