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Even Weirder



I read Barry Evans' recent column ("The Weirdness of English," March 16) with interest. Another weird issue with the English language is how it deals with the names for numbers.

We have adopted Arabic numerals and they make good sense for a base 10 system (and the Arabs invented the zero). But when it comes to the words we use for each, and for the numbers beyond ten, there's a significant and possibly historic issue that might be worthy of exploration. The words for the first 11 digits (0 through 10) obviously have historic antecedents (Arabic, Hebrew?). Barry states that, "One to ten are found, one way or another, in all Indo-European languages. One of the key elements in making the connection between, say, Sanskrit, Greek and Latin."

But the discontinuity of how we name our number counts thereafter is kinda weird. Eleven rather that ten-one? Twelve rather than ten-two? Barry has informed me that eleven and twelve have Germanic cognates: They are "one over" and "two over" (ten) and, yeah, I should have recognized that as I was once fluent in Hoch Deutsche.

Then we get to three-ten (3-10 thirteen), four-ten (4-10 fourteen), etc. up to twenty. Fine but then we get into the twenties and we switch to twenty-one (20-1), twenty-two (20-2), etc. on up ad infinitum.

Obviously something other than logic and consistency was driving our verbal numbering bus. Was it because we ran out of fingers and toes after twenty?

Bronco Weseman, Eureka

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