Naming Small Numbers
Date: 07/29/2002 at 13:45:07 From: Aaron Silber Subject: Why are the numbers called what they are? Here's the question: Why is "one" named "one," and why is "two" named "two," and why is "three" named "three"? Aaron
Date: 07/29/2002 at 17:02:46 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Why are the numbers called what they are? Hi, Aaron. That's not an easy question to answer! You could ask the same thing about any word in our language: why is a dog called a dog? You could also ask your parents why you are called Aaron. In that case you can at least find out who chose the name, but even then you might not get a complete answer as to why. In general, words and names are what they are just because someone chose to use some word in the first place, and others have gradually changed it since then. Here is a very unsatisfying answer in the Dr. Math archives that I gave to the same question once: Number Word Etymologies http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/52588.html Here is another page I found about this (select: the topic English numbers, Etymology of): http://www.cenius.net/refer/az/default.php?Letter=e What these say is that you can look back in history to before there was an English language at all (and before anything was written down, so all we can really do is to guess at how words might have been said), and you will find the ancestors of the words we use for numbers today. You can see some family resemblances, even though the language was very different. For example, what we call "one" today was apparently pronounced in early English something like the name "Anna" (and is related to our word "a" or "an"), and came from a much earlier word that we might write as "oynos." All you can see in there from our "one" is the "n." Our "two" was pronounced "twa," with a real "w" sound, in early English, and something like "duo" in the great-great grandfather of English. Can you see how those are related? So the answer is that we have no idea how the words we use for numbers were originally chosen, because they go back before there is any record of the language. Some of the words have hardly changed (like "three"); some have changed their pronunciation, but the spelling shows how they used to be said (like "two"); and others have changed a lot more (like "four," which in early English was "feower," but started out as "kwetwores." If you have any more questions, feel free to write back. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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