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AWADmail Issue 201

March 18, 2006

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages


From: Kim Richardson (kim-rATdircon.co.uk)
Subject: Happy twelfth birthday (Re: duodecennial)

Happy 12th birthday to A Word a Day. And thank you for the inspiration of the daily quotations, as much as for the words. The quotations are often so perfectly apt to the day and to circumstances. They are, also, a repository of much wisdom which does its work - quietly as it should be - in the world. Thank you, and may the work you do continue always to be blessed.


From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Twelfth anniversary of Wordsmith.org

Thanks to everyone who sent email with words of congratulations, [From Latin con- (with) + gratus (pleasing)].

Here are a few more instances of the significance of the number twelve.

Biblically there there twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twelve pillars (see book of Revelation).
-Robert D'Souza (robertATessar.com)

I like your examples of things in 12s. You left out an important one: 12 bottles in a case of wine! Important to my industry (winery) anyway.
-Wendy Yeh (wyehATbouchaine.com)

12 beers in a cold pack.
-Diane Thompson (dianet3ATaol.com)

And let's not forget another big twelve, the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
-Rob Meurer (robmeurerATsbcglobal.net)

Don't forget the twelve days of Christmas!
-Marge Simon (msimon6206ATaol.com)

There are 12 years in the Chinese zodiac. I'm a Leo in the western zodiac and a Tiger in the Chinese system, so I must be a Liger.
-Robert J. Skinner (memphisbobAThotmail.com)

Number 12 is even, composite, abundant, evil, and practical. It is also pentagonal and pronic. 12 has the following unique properties:
- 12 is the smallest abundant number;
- 12 is the kissing number in three dimensions;
- There are 12 pentominos, the polyominos made from 5 squares;
- 12 is the only number such that it is equal to the sum of 3 raised to its digits: 12 = 3^1 + 3^2. Web page about 12: The Secret of the Number Twelve.
-Tanya (tanyakhATyahoo.com)

I've always liked twelve ... when I was young it seemed magical because it appears to refer to two elves.
-Marion Neiman (mneimanATmagma.ca)

We learned about the duodecimal system in my elementary school library.
-Ken Guyton (kenneth.m.guytonATemory.edu 8-)


From: Bob Wilson (wilsonATmath.wisc.edu)
Subject: Base 12 number system, body parts

As a math prof I frequently refer to our ten fingers as a reason for our using base ten arithmetic, and also other matchings to body parts. As you said, there are cultures that have used base 12 and some evidence for it even in the English words for numbers. Notice the way we change the "style" of the words in going from "... eleven, twelve", where there is a word for each number, to "thirteen, fourteen..." where the words are made out of the word for three, four, etc., together with a reference to ten. If we were truly basing our words on base ten we would make that switch earlier.

Languages also show traces of other bases, e.g. the structure of the words for twenty and forty in French. And we have traces of an even stranger base in our numbering of time and of angles in degrees, minutes, and seconds. Those seem to trace to Babylonian usage of a system that could be described roughly as base 60.

My father, another mathematician, as I was growing up, would first explain that ten related to the number of fingers, 12 was for people who wore shoes since you could then see ten fingers plus two feet, 20 went in the same way with a barefoot population, and then he would invite me to conjecture what a Babylonian looked like...


From: Fred Simon (fvsimonATsbcglobal.net)
Subject: feedback: duodecennial

I was surprised by your statement that the musical scale has twelve tones. True, for most of the history of Western European/American music, but not at all true for many other cultures around the world in which the octave is divided into more, or fewer, steps than twelve. In the 20th century, even Western music saw the use of microtonal and macrotonal scales.

Well, I'm probably picking nits to some extent here ... bottom line, I agree that twelve is still a pretty groovy number.


From: John Allen (johnallenATxtra.co.nz)
Subject: duodecimal

When I first entered the construction industry as a trainee quantity surveyor in 1954, my first task in those pre-calculator days was to "work up" raw measurements given in feet and inches into cubic, square, or linear totals by the application of duodecimal (base 12) arithmetic.

After a few weeks of this work, duodecimal calculations were undertaken very quickly and it became a matter of pride to avoid using paper notes in order to arrive at the answers -- it was mostly done mentally. I often wonder how our school leavers today would cope with such mental exercises -- but then, that's probably the musing of an old curmudgeon!


From: Lawrence Feldhun (larryfATvzavenue.net)
Subject: feedback: duodenum

Regarding the use of duodenum, it's refreshing to think of Ogden Nash's use of the word in his poem "The Cobra".

This creature fills its mouth with venom
And crawls upon his duodenum.
He who attempts to tease a cobra,
Is soon a sadder he and sobra.


From: Shrisha Rao (shraoATnyx.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dodecagon

A polygon of 12 sides also has 12 vertices, but this is not true in higher dimensions. So the analogue of this shape in three dimensions would either be a dodecahedron (a polyhedron with 12 faces and 20 vertices) or an icosohedron (one with 20 faces and 12 vertices). These two, along with the cube, the tetrahedron, and the octahedron, form the five "Platonic solids", the only possible regular polyhedra. See H.S.M. Coxeter's excellent book, Regular Polytopes (Dover, 1973) for more information.


From: Israel Pickholtz (israelpATpikholz.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dodecagon

Re: "A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman." -Wallace Stevens, poet, (1879-1955)

Poet: Lecher to the World.


From: Mike Lermon (mike.lermonATconocophillips.com)
Subject: Re: "A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman." -Wallace Stevens, poet

I didn't know poets feared the world.


From: John Rochat, MD (jeandeuxATyahoo.com)
Subject: Re: "A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman." -Wallace Stevens, poet

Perhaps I should introduce you to two (apparently) new words:

Heterosexism, and heterocentrism.

Heterosexism should not be confused with heterocentrism, which is an (often subconscious) assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and the attitudes associated with that assumption. Heterocentrism often shows up in less intentional ways in every day life. See Wikipedia.

In my humble opinion, Mr. Stevens provides a fine example of heterocentrism.


From: Chris Kawakita (ckawakitATiwu.edu)
Subject: Duodeciphiliac

For some time now, I have been drawn to the number twelve. My obsession was borne of a boyhood admiration of a basketball player. Inexplicably, I believed his talents were somehow tied to his jersey number. Since then, this fixation has taken on a life of its own. The most notable example is my requirement when setting an alarm clock. I only set the alarm to times that add up to twelve. For example, 6:33, 7:14, and 8:04 are okay but 7:00 is not. If only I had time for twelve hours of sleep a night.

By the way, each of the sentences above contains exactly twelve words.


From: Al Owens (scrumsATaol.com)
Subject: Duodecimal

Duodecimal reminds me of primary school arithmetic in England, where we, as seven-year olds, were expected to calculate in a non-decimal monetary system that used bases of twelve (pence) and twenty (shillings)----good old LSD.

We also had guineas, crowns, half crowns, florins, and farthings! My neighbour's cat would only come in at night if he rustled a crisp new ten-bob note at the back door.

Typical problem:
"The coalman delivered seven sacks of coal at thirteen shillings and tenpence ha'penny a hundredweight. Your Mum gave him a five-pound note, then bought a pair of shoes for one guinea and gave you half a crown pocket money with the change. How much did she have left?"

I'd love to hear from anyone who has the answer.
Hint: coal sacks weighed 56 lbs (Avoirdupois--another non-decimal system)


A word in earnest is as good as a speech. -Charles Dickens, novelist (1812-1870)

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