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A Dozen Words That Derive From Numbers (video)

I was working on making an infographic on words that derive from numbers when I found the following video. (I was planning to crib from it, but I thought you’d get a kick out of it.)

You have probably heard the word quarantine a lot in the recent COVID-19 coverage, but did you know that it derives from the Latin word for forty?

Yes, the word was coined in Venice to describe the forty day period ships had to be isolated before they would be allowed to dock. The Venetian word for forty is quaranta, which has a Latin root.

There are a lot of words in English that derive from numbers – far more than you realize. For starters, there’s obvious words like bicycle, words which hardly count for this post because they were coined by combining a Latin number with another word. But then there are the months September through December, whose root words derive from the Latin words for seven through ten. (This makes more sense if you remember that December was the tenth month in the calendar back when the new year used to start on March first.)

BTW, if you know of a word that should be mentioned here but is not, could you tell me about it in the comments? (I will start the fun with a couple words I found.)



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Nate Hoffelder March 11, 2020 um 12:04 pm

The first word I want to add to this list is decimate. It used to mean "kill one man in ten", but obviously the meaning has shifted. Pretty much everyone knew that, of course, but did you also know that mile derived from the Latin word for a thousand paces?

Kevin March 13, 2020 um 11:49 pm

Does "half-wit" count?

Nate Hoffelder March 14, 2020 um 8:32 am


Kevin March 13, 2020 um 11:57 pm

Decathlon means 10 contests (from "deca" meaning 10 and "athlon" meaning contest). The modern Olympic decathlon consists of the (1) 100-meter run, (2) 400-meter run, (3) 1500-meter run, (4) 110-meter high hurdles, (5) javelin throw, (6) discus throw, (7) shot put, (8) pole vault, (9) high jump, and (10) long jump.

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