If I’ve done my job this year, this group of students, like their teacher, will forever be intrigued (obsessed?) with the structure and history of words. It happens constantly, with me at least…I’m trying to listen to someone and then they use a word that gets me thinking, and before they’re finished, I’m more interested in that word’s etymology than what they’re actually saying to me. This occurs most frequently during meetings. I can’t help it.

It happened this morning in math with the word <dozen>. Where does that come from? What a weird word? Who came up with this? Why does “dozen” represent the number twelve? I posed these and other questions to the class. Alice said, “In Italian the word for <dozen> is dozzina,” which prompted a glorious list of words for <dozen> to be shared from our various languages.

Our many German speakers eventually wondered about the word for <ten> – zehn, and its relation to <dozen>. At that point, Lydia said, “I wonder if the <do> in <dozen> is like the <do> in <dodecagon> and has something to do with ‘two’.”

Hmm…ten and two is twelve.

Let’s see what Douglas has to say…



You can see the results for ten here, part of which indicates Old German zehan and German zehn. OK…so English is a Germanic language…the Old English (West Saxon) word for <ten> was tien…does the <z> first appear in Old High German and is it related to the <z> in <dozen>, or is the <z> in the English word a result of the Old French dozaine…Spanish diez…hmmm…

We’re left with questions. Success!

I’m also left with a new appreciation for the word <dozen>, the current hypothesis for which is <do> + <zen>…”two and ten.”

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