Decimate and Quarantine
March 14, 2020 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I just learned that the word "quarantine" relates to the Italian word for "forty". And I've known for awhile that "decimate" relates to the Latin for "ten". But in regular usage, the specific numeric meaning seems to have been entirely lost or at least widely forgotten. Are there other English words like this?
posted by great_radio to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Only other one I can remember offhand is "punch" which according to one etymology comes from the Persian "panj" (five) referring to the five canonical ingredients that go into the punchbowl.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:51 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

correction, some say its from Persian "panj", others from Hindi "pāñć". Others say the word is derived from the english volume measurement of the "puncheon," which is no fun at all.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:54 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

A quart is a quarter of a gallon.
posted by NotLost at 7:03 PM on March 14 [8 favorites]

Dime for a tenth. Quintessential (five essences).
posted by 445supermag at 7:06 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]

The word "second," as in the period of time, is one of these. The hour is firstly divided into 60 minutes, and each minute is secondly divided into 60 seconds.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:08 PM on March 14 [19 favorites]

posted by librosegretti at 7:12 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]

posted by librosegretti at 7:14 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]

Myriad (10,000, from Greek).
Google (from googol, sorta, the number 1 followed by a hundred zeros).
Mile (from one thousand [Latin mille] paces). :-)
posted by miles per flower at 7:15 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

posted by mono blanco at 7:26 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

September used to be the seventh month, October used to be the eighth month, November used to be the ninth month, and December used to be the tenth month, on the Roman calendar! (The calendar also originally included months Quintilis and Sextilis, which were renamed after Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:28 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]

Dilemma is now often used to refer to a situation with more than 2 possible options, though sticklers still demand its original meaning.
posted by brainmouse at 7:29 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

'Fünf' is German for 'five'. 'Finf' is Yiddish for 'five'. Thus, 'fin' came to be a slang word for 'five-dollar bill'.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:49 PM on March 14 [8 favorites]

FYI "decimate" refers to the Roman Army. In groups of troops accused of cowardice, mutiny or such things, they would execute every tenth man.
posted by sanka at 7:49 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

tithe : a tenth part
posted by qurlyjoe at 8:30 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Quarter meaning neighborhood comes from the Roman camp layout, divided into 4 sections.
posted by bq at 8:35 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

So this is not a number word but poke is/was a bag (a pig in a poke) and a pocket is a little bag that used to be attached (inside) clothing. Now a pocket is a part of a garment and not a standalone item.
posted by bilabial at 8:39 PM on March 14

Catercorner and its variations (cattycorner, kittycorner, kittywampus, etc.) come from French quatre 'four'.

Sextant means a sixth just as quadrant means a fourth; the instrument is so called because its arc is 60°, a sixth of a circle.

I'm not sure if this one's well-known or not, but Tetris (the game) is derived from the Greek for 'four', probably by way of tetromino (what mathematicians call a shape made from four squares stuck together, like the pieces in Tetris). Tetromino is in turn modeled on domino, but the -omino morpheme is a backformation; domino was not originally di- + omino!
posted by aws17576 at 8:46 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

Legion -- A unit of 3,000–6,000 men in the ancient Roman army.
Cohort -- An ancient Roman military unit, comprising six centuries, equal to one tenth of a legion.
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:47 PM on March 14

You may have noticed a resemblance between the word duodenary (relating to twelve) and the duodenum (a portion of the small intestine). This is not a coincidence; the duodenum was originally known as the intestinum duodenum digitorum "intestine of twelve fingers", because it was perceived to be about twelve fingersbreadth in length by the medieval anatomists who named it in the 14th century while mucking around with corpses.
- from The Phrontistery
posted by BoscosMom at 11:29 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]

Adding to sextant, we also have octants.

And my phone corrected that to octane, which is, for petrol, measure of combustion effects related to an 8-carbon hydrocarbon (which, illogically, is not actually octane).

Which gets me to cetane, which is the opposite: there is a word for a 16 carbon hydrocarbon related to the number, but we prefer to talk about whales. And who doesn't?
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 12:27 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]

Decade, century & millenium from the Latin for 10, 100 & 1000
posted by jontyjago at 12:48 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]

Etymology is great fun! Here are some of my favorites:

shampoo comes from Hindi champa, meaning to press or massage. This also tells you when Europeans started washing their hair.

carpet comes from Latin carpere via Old Italian carpita, meaning to pluck or pull to pieces (of wool)

ostracize comes from the Greek ostrakon, meaning shards of pottery, which were used to vote someone off the figurative island.
posted by dum spiro spero at 3:47 AM on March 15

Foot as measurement.
posted by TrishaU at 4:56 AM on March 15

Prime, terce, sext, and none in the cycle of prayer used by monks.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:42 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]

"tw(i)-" at the beginning of a lot of words etymologically comes from "two". Obviously, "twice", "twelve", and "twenty", but also "twin", "twine" (double thread), "twilight" (two lights), "twist", "twill", and "twig" (from an Old Germanic word for "fork").
posted by damayanti at 6:20 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]

Decade, century & millenium from the Latin for 10, 100 & 1000

"Millennium" is from the Latin roots "mille" for thousand and "annus" for year. Spell it with one n and it arguably means something different.
posted by flabdablet at 7:28 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]

Bevy. Was a group of birds or young women. Now used to refer to groups of anything.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:30 AM on March 15

bilabial, a) eponstyrical, and b) I have several small cross body bags that I wear when my skirt has no pockets. I refer to the bags as pockets, so I'm just being Old School, with which I am fine. This is an excellent ask with many very fine answers, thanks.
posted by theora55 at 12:55 PM on March 15

A primary election or primary, is the first election in a series (as compared, presumably, to a secondary election).
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:02 PM on March 16

A sideways one is the Yan Tan Tethera counting system, an old Celtic linguistic hangover used for counting sheep throughout England.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:05 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

The only other sideways one I can think of is the persistence of base-12 and base-60 in timetelling, apparently a hangover from the Sumerians.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:09 PM on March 16

Oh, and related to the above note of the tw(i)- prefix to mean twoishness, you have to actually think about how the -teen suffix really just means "ten." Other languages still say the equivalent of "nine and ten" instead of nineteen. The barbarians.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:11 PM on March 16

Tern schooner: a three masted schooner very popular between 1880 and 1920.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:46 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

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