Why Forty, not Fourty?
Date: 3/30/96 at 16:18:19 From: Anonymous Subject: Spelling of forty My 7th and eighth grade math classes from Rossville, Kansas have tried to figure out why the number "forty" is spelled as it is and not "fourty". Dictionaries and encylopedias haven't been any help. Would it have any relation to a Fort where there may have been 40 involved?
Date: 3/30/96 at 17:22:8 From: Doctor Sarah Subject: Re: Spelling of forty Hello there - Trying to figure out why something is spelled the way it is in English is often frustrating. :-) Spelling didn't become very 'stable' until well after the time of Shakespeare; if your 7th and 8th graders haven't seen Shakespearean spelling yet, it might be an eye-opener for them. A better question to ask of a good etymological dictionary like Webster's Second International might be where the words four and forty come from. My dictionary says this: ME. is Middle English, the language of England between about 1100 and 1500 A.D. AS. is Anglo-Saxon, the language of the Saxon tribes that invaded England in the 5th and 6th centuries - from about 600 A.D. OS. is Old Saxon, the language of the original Saxon tribes of northwest Germany between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers. forty: ME. forti, fourti, fowerti, from AS. feowertig; akin to OS. fiwartig, fiartig four: ME. four, fower, feower, from AS. feower; akin to OS. fiwar So four and forty were different words starting a long time ago but were spelled with the same beginning in Old Saxon and Anglo-Saxon and part of Middle English. Somewhere along the way during the Middle English era the simpler spelling of forty took hold and has continued ever since. Of course it was easier to change spellings before there were dictionaries and teachers paying close attention to your spelling. :-) It's interesting to notice the British spellings of words like humour and labour, etc., which are spelled humor and labor in the United States. I hope this helps answer your students' question. -Doctor Sarah, The Math Forum
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