Thursday, April 20, 2017

Secret Origins: 4

More symbols!  Also kind of a short one. I guess that’s fitting considering how long last weeks was.

The word four comes from the Old English feower, which means four of course. Before that it was the Proto Germanic fedwor and Proto Indo European kwetwer. Yes, originally there was no f in four. One theory is that it’s because of the next number (you know, five). I don’t know how. Maybe people looked at the F in five and were like, whoa. I like that.

The symbol’s history is a lot weirder. Even more so than 3! The Medieval version of it looks like a ribbon, while the Arabic version is more like a backwards 3, or sometimes what looks like a bobby pin. Then the Hindu version is an upside down ribbon. And the Brahmi had a plus symbol. When it wasn’t a kind of loop, which at least might be where the upside down ribbon came from.

There’s…not really much else? Sorry. But I would like to point out that for a while there was this post going around that said that the symbols were all based on the number of corners they had (look at this picture for a better idea). It’s total nonsense, especially since most of the symbols aren’t how we really write the numbers. Especially nine. Come on, who puts a spiral at the end of 9 just so it has more angles to it? Who writes them all blocky ever?

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Origin of the numerals Zero Concept by Ahmed Boucenna, Laboratoire DAC, Department of Physics, Faculty of Sciences, Ferhat Abbas University


  1. The origin of four has to do with cosmic rays. Everyone knows that.

  2. Only a calculator writes them blocky.

  3. Don't forget alarm clocks writing them blocky- damned cursed alarm clocks, how I hate them... :)

  4. When I was in elementary school, we were not allowed to count on our hands. But, being a tactile-type learner (among other things), I needed some sort of something to count. So, I'd tap parts of the number and count in my head. I could have used a spiral on nine to make that work. (So, to answer your question, I was the one who needed the blocky.)


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