Academic journal article et Cetera

Number-English: A Dictionary ( A-Alg)

Academic journal article et Cetera

Number-English: A Dictionary ( A-Alg)

Article excerpt


WHEN WE TRY to hitch our ordinary language to scientifically correct language, we run into an obstacle I call the hitch hitch. The two languages aren't equal. Their disparity hinders the hitching.

Ordinary language comes to us naturally and has great scope, but it carries vestiges of long-outmoded views and follows its own convoluted and often obscure internal logic. Scientific language has narrower scope and comes to us only painstakingly, but it exhibits careful updating and employs both numbers and the demonstrable logic of mathematics.

The hitch hitch almost defines types of writers. Most writers seem to regard themselves as "people people," and therefore users of ordinary language. A minority of writers think of themselves as "number people," comfortable with scientific language. Not many writers, and not nearly enough to satisfy the growing demand for their services, have solved the hitch hitch to the point where they feel really comfortable combining the two languages.

The present work addresses the hitch hitch dead-on. It shows what to do in all the common hitching problems, the only ones most writers will ever encounter. The writer need only look up the word or problem causing trouble, to find for that situation whether, when, and how to use ordinary idiom and scientifically correct language. The writer will also find extensive cross-references to related hitching problems and further explanations.

Two special codes are used in the text. * see separate entry for

^ for source, see introduction

The sources identified in this first installment include:

KAMII. Constance Kazuko Kamii, with Georgia DeClark: Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic: Implications of Piaget's Theory. New York: Teachers College Press, 1985.

. Young Children Continue to Reinvent Arithmetic- 2nd Grade. New York: Teachers College Press, 1989.

MACNEAL. Edward MacNeal, Mathsemantics: Making Numbers Talk Sense. New York: Viking, 1994.

The author and publisher will welcome input from readers. Number-English:

A Dictionary



Trust your ear and standard usage here rather than mathematical rigor. I refer not to the euphony of an before vowel sounds (although that advice applies also), but to the puzzling *mathsemantics of singular a (or an) before plurals. A few days, a dozen eggs, and a good many soldiers, are all good English; a three days, a twelve eggs, and a many soldiers are not. However, many a soldier is again good English. If you don't hear this, please use an editor who does.

Explanations of how a (an) come to be used with plurals invoke *idiom (in effect, it's good English because we've long accepted it as good English) and *collectives, because the singular a (an) can introduce a collective. A study of collectives, however, discloses more idiom. Dozen is a collective; a dozen is good English. Twelve is not a collective; a twelve isn't good English. Nor is a ninety. But then again a hundred is. So you need to rely on your ear again to spot collectives.

That still doesn't end the troubles; for collectives may take either singular or plural verbs. Thus idiom may dictate using a (an) before a collective singular, which may then wheel in place to take a plural verb. Note the swings between singular and plural in the following conversation.

"Were you able to get eggs?"

"Yes, but a dozen is all he had."

"A dozen are enough."

"What did you say?"

"Twelve is enough."

"How are we doing on our schedule?"

"A few hours are all we have left."

"Then a few hours has to do."

Hitching English to numbers involves a continually fascinating face-off between mathematical rigor and the messy *semantics of everyday language. Give the nod here to everyday language.

See also collectives, idiom, number.


Use a (an) to introduce one of more than one, or one of an unknown number; use the to introduce the only one of something or something already, or soon to be, identified. …

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