Thursday, May 3, 2018

Secret Origins: 6

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, I think.

Six comes from the Old English siex, which is from the Proto Germanic sekhs and Proto Indo European sweks-. We also often use the prefix hexa- when there’s six of something and that too is from sweks-, just through the Greek hexa- instead. I guess they’re the ones to blame for changing it from an s to an h.

As for the numeral, the ones we use come from India and the Middle East. Both Brahmi and Hindi used curly-cues that look a lot like 6 with a little more flourish to them, but then when it went into Arabic they changed it so it looks more like, well, a 7. As the number migrated to western Arabia, it took on a more “six-ish” look, which then eventually migrated out to Europe (and probably helped along by the Crusades).

So that’s it. It still leaves the question of just why they chose the curly-cue to become the 6. Maybe they liked the way it looked?

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. So Europe got the 6 through the Crusades? What did they use before that - Roman numerals?

  2. I assume Europe kept using the Roman numerals until 6 firmly established itself.

  3. This is one of those days when I have nothing smartass to say.

  4. Six was where things went awry. When I was in school, they strongly discouraged counting on fingers for adding. (I'm a tactile learner. I need the fingers.) So, I used the numerals to count on. Through five. At six, it stopped working.

    Ah, memories. Yet somehow I managed to get through calculus...

  5. I was born on the 16th of '66, so I like sixes.

  6. My son can't write sixes. They always look like zeroes...

  7. I always wondered where the hexa came from. Now I know!


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