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22 November 2010

Tolfaedic





 Welcome to Monday morning at my blog.  Sit down and help yourself to cakes.  You notice there are thirteen, just to make sure, in case anyone feels short changed.  Which leads me nicely into today's word courtesy of Michael Quinion*

"In centuries past, merchants selling goods by number often supplied
a larger quantity than the nominal total. The baker's dozen of 13
is well known. Less so is the measure of 120, which was once known
variously as the great hundred, long hundred or small gross.

The number 120 is the result of measuring items by twelves rather than by tens, a survival of the duodecimal system used by many civilisations in antiquity and of which relics like the dozen and the gross still survive. It's known, though very rarely, as the"tolfraedic" system. In origin the word is Icelandic, from "tólf",twelve, plus "ráða", to speak. Relatives of the term were used in Iceland and throughout Scandinavia to distinguish between hundredsthat were ten tens and hundreds that were ten twelves (in Icelandic called "tolfrátt hundrað").

The long hundred was so widely used at one time in England that aproverb was created to remind people that:

Five score's a hundred of men, money and pins; sixscore's a hundred of all other things.
[Quoted in Curiosities in Proverbs, by Dwight Edwards
Marvin, 1916.]

It was common, as just one example out of many, to sell nails bythis measure (though why pins weren't is a curiosity now lost inhistory). The medieval Anglo-Saxon Chronicle even stated that theyear is 305 days long. This wasn't an astronomical error, but thetolfraedic system in action. Three long hundreds is 360; add in the
extra five and you have the usual year length."

So now, if anyone asks you how many days are in a year, you can say 305, and explain you're counting in 'Long Hundreds'!

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewds.
Reproduced with permission