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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: The Number 20
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0249  Friday, 2 February 2001

[1]     From:   Victor Bennison <
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        Date:   Thursday, 01 Feb 2001 14:20:23 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0233 Re: The Number 20

[2]     From:   R. Lamb <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Feb 2001 20:54:15 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0233 Re: The Number 20

[3]     From:   Victor Bennison <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 Feb 2001 00:32:55 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0233 Re: The Number 20


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Victor Bennison <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 Feb 2001 14:20:23 EST
Subject: 12.0233 Re: The Number 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0233 Re: The Number 20

Oops, I forgot seven.  Seven scans nicely too.  Trochees aren't they,
twenty and seven?

Victor Bennison

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. Lamb <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Feb 2001 20:54:15 -0000
Subject: 12.0233 Re: The Number 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0233 Re: The Number 20

Shepherds in the north of England until the last century apparently
counted their flocks by a number system, variously described as being
Norse or Celtic in origin, which seems to have gone no higher than
twenty.  How they managed when the got to the twenty-first sheep I don't
know; and whether shepherds further south followed a similar system, or
whether if they did it would have had any impact on William Shakespeare,
I also don't know.

If you want some information on the dialect usage you can find it at:

http://www.cumbria.com/bulletin/messages/991.htm

and the words of a song which quote the numbers up to twenty at:

http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/~scs1ec/oldmolly.html

R. Lamb

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Victor Bennison <
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Date:           Friday, 2 Feb 2001 00:32:55 EST
Subject: 12.0233 Re: The Number 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0233 Re: The Number 20

A few more things.  Seven (which I mentioned before) appears about half
the number of times that twenty does, and three, understandably, appears
about twice as often as twenty.  And I take it back about the usage:
four and twenty.  Looking through the concordance I find it almost as
frequently applied to thirty, forty, etc., as in: "three and forty
years."

Now, back on twenty.  If you look at how twenty is most commonly used by
Shakespeare, it seems to be the preferred number for exaggeration:
"twenty consciences", "twenty to one, he is", "love hath twenty pairs of
eyes", "find you twenty lascivious turtles", "twenty of these puny lies
I'll tell", "that twenty such rude boys might", "I should marry twenty
husbands", "were he twenty times my son", it goes on and on, perhaps
half the references to twenty appear to be arbitrary exaggerations of
this kind.  Thirty is used this way also, but to a much lesser extent,
by which I mean a far smaller percentage of the usages of thirty are
exaggerations. My conclusion: if you throw out all the usages such as
"four and twenty years" (since it seems that more properly belongs in
the 24 column if we are talking numerology) and you throw out all the
exaggerations (since the choice of a number to use in idle exaggeration
is unlikely to be based on numerology) then I don't think you are left
with an unusually large number of occurrences, if, indeed, we really did
to begin with. Well, this has been fun, but I think I'm done.  I have at
least twenty other things I have to get done tonight.

Victor Bennison
 

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