Numbers with Fascinating Histories

Regardless of the numerical system being used by a people, numbers continue to be a useful language. From childhood, we’ve been exposed to numbers of the Hindu Arabic Numerical System, which we apply in various situations on a daily basis. But have you ever stopped to consider the history of various numbers? There are several numbers in our number system with fascinating histories. Some of these may amaze you. Let’s dive right into it!

1. 40

The number name for 40 is today, correctly spelt as “forty,” but is often misspelled with a U as in “fourty”. The word is derived from Old English, a Nothumbrian word, “foewertig” used as a compound term “foewer” and “tig” which means four and group of ten respectively. For some time, the spelling “fourty” was used, but during the Great Vowel Shift, between the 15th and 17th century, this changed. At this time of evolution, changes were made to the spelling and pronunciation of many words. By the 16th century, the word “forty” first appeared and became widespread.  

2. 5040

To Greek Philosopher, Plato, the number 5040 was the perfect number. It was revered because it is highly composite (a number with more divisors than any smaller number) and has 60 factors. Sixty was the base of the numeral system in ancient Greece. Plato noted that 5040 can be divided by all natural numbers between 1 and 12 except 11. He suggested that the perfect city should have no more than 5040 citizens as it allowed for good governance. Only the heads of families were considered in this count and not women and children. According to Plato, 5040 should be used to divide many things including citizens and land. 

3. Googol

While you may have heard of the Googol on trivia, you most likely have never had the need to use this number. In 1920, 9 year old Milton Sirotta, nephew of Mathematician Edward Kasner, coined the term Googol when he was asked by his uncle to give a name for a number with 1 and a hundred zeros. The concept became popular when Edward Kasner made note of it in his 1940 book “Mathematics and the Imagination.”

4. 666

There has been widespread debate over the identification and meaning of the number 666. In the bible, Revelations 13:11-18 makes reference to 666 and has been explained by scholars of theology. This number is infamously known to represent the unholy trinity, an antichrist or the mark of the beast. It is thought that a beast will rule and gain authority and power over the earth in the last days.  

5. Zero

The origin of zero dates as far back as the Sumerians about 4000 and 5000 years ago who used spaces to mean absences in a number. The Mayans and Babylonians used zero as a placeholder, not a number with value or properties. Indian Mathematician, Aryabhattaa, was the first to use zero as a number. This, he represented with dots written under numbers. In 879 AD, zero was written as an oval shape, in a smaller font than other digits. Zero was recognized as a full-fledged number when it was introduced by Fibonacci, an Italian Mathematician. Indian mathematician Brahmagupta developed rules for arithmetic operations with zero. A Muslim Mathematician later worked on equations that result in zero. Zero as we know it today became part of the Arabic numeral system by the 19th century.    

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