Non-counting Words For Numbers
June 17, 2013 10:18 AM   Subscribe

In English we have grouping units like dozen (12), gross (144), score (20) and a few others. Though no one uses them for counting (eg: 18, 19, score, 21…). What are similar words in other languages? If there's a cultural or historic reason that particular number has a special word, all the better.
posted by Ookseer to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
How about 22 in ASL?
posted by bq at 10:23 AM on June 17, 2013


stone
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:26 AM on June 17, 2013


Korea has two number systems — I never quite figured out the difference, but I *think* one is for counting in sequence and one is for, like, listing amounts (such as prices, weights, etc.).
posted by Brittanie at 10:30 AM on June 17, 2013


My mother took Russian in school. I was told Russian had two words for the number One. One of them is for counting out loud. Maybe the other is for doing math or something? I think the words are Raz and Ahdeen (attempt at spelling what they sound like). I was taught Raz is for counting out loud. (raz, divah, tree, chetiree, pyatt, schyess, syem...etc)

Anyone here know more than 20 words of Russian and can confirm, deny, elaborate?
posted by Michele in California at 10:36 AM on June 17, 2013


The number two in Mandarin. You use liang(3) for expressing measures, and er(4) for counting
posted by twoporedomain at 10:38 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]




Dreifach in German means triple.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:41 AM on June 17, 2013




Japanese and Mandarin both making extensive use of counters because most nouns cannot be counted. For example, in Japanese, you cannot say "two cars" but have to say "two dai of cars". It is the equivalent of "two cups of water" for mass nouns in English.

The counting words vary for objects. "Hon" for cylindrical things, "hiki" for many animals, "ken" for houses, and so on. More about that topic here. And, the numbers change depending on what is being counting and how much. Although one is "ichi", you cannot say "ichi hon" for "a bottle" but "ippon". Sometimes Japanese variety shows will have a segment where the celebrity guests are asked to count things using the proper counter and much hilarity ensues.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:42 AM on June 17, 2013


"Counting and Calculation on Ponam Island" is a classic article that, among other things, gives patolim as a word for a group of ten things, distinct from the word for ten and distinct from numeral classifiers, etc.

Incidentally, what the article is really known for though is the latter half of it about how, in spite of having tons of ways to count and talk about numbers of things and whatnot, there was no practice or habit of counting things related to human beings. Parents didn't offhand know how many children they had without stopping to think. People didn't offhand know there were 14 clans.

The gift exchange at the end is thus especially interesting because the amount you give to your relatives is apportioned in a way that's iconic with respect to your degree of kinship, but not in a way that counts up the people you give to or the people contributing to the gift.

Anyway, the article gives enough info and citations on counting systems to find a lot more stuff like it.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:44 AM on June 17, 2013


In addition to "lakh" (100,000), which bottlebrushtree mentioned, there's also "crore", which is 100 lakh (10,000,000). And to be clear, these words are used across a wide variety of languages, including English, so it's not like they're just "the word for 100,000" (at least not in every language where they're used); they are more like your examples of "dozen" and "score".

And regarding "score", both "threescore" and "fourscore" are also English words (as opposed to "three score" and "four score"), although they're both pretty much archaic at this point.
posted by Flunkie at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


all those measurements in 12s (inches, dozens, hours, also degrees of angle) are ancient....Babylonian, IIRC. There's a reason for it. 12 is much more easily divided than 10 into quarters and thirds...10=2x5 and that's about it...12=2x6, 3x4, and 4x3.
I read not too long ago (back when there some discussion of abandoning the penny) that in order to give the most efficient change (ie, the least number of coins) we should adopt totally different coin values...i think it was 7cents, 18, and 23...weird, right?
posted by sexyrobot at 11:25 AM on June 17, 2013


In French, dizaine for tens – "quelques dizaines de personnes" rather than "a few dozen people" is common.
posted by zadcat at 11:28 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heck, dozen is dizaine, from douze, the standard French word for twelve. We also took "quarantine" from quarantaine, "a collection of 40", which in this case refers to 40 days that you have to stay in isolation. I'm not sure how uniformly you can use +aine, but I'm pretty sure I've come across quinzaine (from quinze = 15), vingtaine (20), and trentaine (30) in French reading.

Google Translate give the translation for trentaine as "about thirty", and I guess it has a sense of giving an approximation too. A better French speaker can clarify. Calling fraula.

Esperanto has a completely regular and rich set of suffixes that can be applied to numbers. The ones that apply to your question are -o and -ope. For instance:

dudek: twelve, counting number
dudeko: a dozen, as a noun
dudekope: adverb, twelve together

So you can theoretically apply these to any number, and no number will deviate from this pattern (Esperanto is fanatically regular). But I'll bet that some get used more than others, though I don't know which. My book mentions dekduo (dozen) and dudeko (score) as examples.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:58 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Brazilian portugese I've heard "meia" used in place of 6, especially when giving out a phone number. Meia means half, in this case a half-dozen. I'm not sure why; maybe because it's clearer to say since seis rhymes with more other numbers.
posted by aimedwander at 12:00 PM on June 17, 2013


When reading numbers like telephone numbers, account numbers etc. in German people sometimes say zwo for two instead of zwei. I presume this is because zwei could be misheard as drei.
posted by neilb449 at 12:04 PM on June 17, 2013


In German, eins is only used for the word of the number one itself, as in counting, but any other use of one is ein().
posted by General Malaise at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2013


In French, a week (as in, e.g. a week off work) is referred to as huit jours (8 days) and two weeks is referred to as quinze jours (15 days). In Britain, of course, a period of 2 weeks is always referred to as a fortnight (short for fourteen nights).

As BB said above, I can confirm that Un xxxaine de something refers to about xxx of them, and I was taught that it could be used for pretty much any rounded number. Also in (mainland*) France, 80 is known as quatre-vingts: four twenties.

*or, as the French would put it, la France hexagonale.
posted by ambrosen at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dreifach in German means triple.

At some point it might become silly and stop, but there's n-fach for at least the first few n. I'm not sure it's an example, though. There's also n-mal for once, twice, thrice, etc. But, again, I'm not sure that's an example.

Also in (mainland*) France, 80 is known as quatre-vingts: four twenties.

This reminds me that Danish counts base 20 (for lack of a better term) for numbers greater than 50, but they have some base-10 words for use when talking to the rest of Scandinavia.
posted by hoyland at 12:43 PM on June 17, 2013


We have thousand, million, billion, trillion and they go up by powers of a thousand, right? In Japan traditionally large numbers were powers of ten thousand.

man ten thousand (10^4)
oku a hundred million (10^8)
chou a trillion (10^12)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:15 PM on June 17, 2013


MrMoonPie: stone
A stone isn't a counting unit; it's a unit of measure. Thus, it's analogous to a pound, not to a score.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:57 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Japan traditionally large numbers were powers of ten thousand.

That's another good example. The historical definition of "myriad" is 10,000, though now it just means "a whole bunch". You can use the word "myriad" in front of your pedantic friends and be fairly certain that they will remind you of this fact.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:59 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Spanish: decena (10), docena (12), quincena (15, usually days), veintena (20, usually days), centenar (100)
posted by ipsative at 2:59 PM on June 17, 2013


I was told Russian had two words for the number One. One of them is for counting out loud. Maybe the other is for doing math or something?

English does too, i.e. "one" is interchangeable with "a" or "an" in meaning but we use them in different situations. Like you wouldn't ask someone if they fancied one shag.
posted by w0mbat at 3:03 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


benito.strauss: dozen is dizaine, from douze, the standard French word for twelve
No. In French, une dizaine is ten, from dix. A dozen is simply une douzaine from douze, twelve.
Google Translate give the translation for trentaine as "about thirty", and I guess it has a sense of giving an approximation too.
You also see trentaine, quarantaine etcetera used like this: un homme dans le trentaine, a man in his thirties.
posted by zadcat at 4:38 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oops! Thanks zadcat.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:46 PM on June 17, 2013


The historical definition of "myriad" is 10,000, though now it just means "a whole bunch". You can use the word "myriad" in front of your pedantic friends and be fairly certain that they will remind you of this fact.

I was wondering why I always thought the proper usage was "it could happen in a myriad of ways" rather than the wrong to my ears "it could happen in myriad ways".
posted by gjc at 8:12 PM on June 17, 2013


deuce and trey from cards (for 2 and 3, respectively). not sure why, except that they're the smallest, so usually undesirable.
posted by acm at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Irish has several words for the number 2 depending on the context.

Dó - The number 2 used in counting - áon, dó, tri
Dhá - Referring to 2 of something (Tá dhá peann agam - I have two pens)
Beirt - Referring to 2 people (Tá an beirt acu ag dul go dti an siopa - The two of them are going to the shops)

Des Bishop (Irish-American comedian) spent a year learning to speak Irish and he explains the differences better!
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2013


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