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Trivia Tuesday: Roman numerals

Trivia Tuesday: Roman numerals

Okay, I think we all have at least 1-19 in Roman numerals down. But what about the rest?

First, you must memorize the base symbols:
1: I
5: V
10: X
50: L
100: C
500: D
1,000: M

One tip for remembering C and M: C is short for centum (“hundred” in Latin), and M is short for millia (“thousand” in Latin)–think century and millennium.

Once you have that down, it’s just a matter of basic math. Roman numerals are designed to quickly add up numbers with your hands and fingers.

When writing out Roman numerals, start with the biggest number on the left, and work your way down. So, let’s write our current year–2013. You need two 1,000s, so MM;  one 10, so X; one 3, so III = MMXIII. Ta-da!

How about a more complicated number, say 4,856? (Remember: Start with the largest symbol you can use, and work your way down!) Well, four 1000s (M) + one 500 (D) + three 100s (C) + one 50 (L) + one 5 (V) + one 1 (I) = MMMMDCCCLVI. See, easy!

Okay, I definitely don’t blame you for sticking with Indo-Arabic numerals.

Why, yes, we do have materials on the history of numbers!

May 1, 20130 comments
Trivia Tuesday: Why are there so many terms for a collective of animals in English?

Trivia Tuesday: Why are there so many terms for a collective of animals in English?

Have you ever noticed how many names the English language has for a collective of animals? For example, what do you call a group of owls? A flock? A flight? A pack? A parliament? A nest? A company? (Hint: It’s a parliament–see above.) But who started using all these different names? The consensus is that hunters dating back to 15th century England are to blame, which is why there are particularly so many names for birds. Another source says these names were penned and perpetuated by The Book of St. Albans, which was printed in English in 1486, but likely translated from French.

Some of the more fanciful-sounding terms seem to have an actual basis: For example, an “unkindness of ravens” is rooted in the myth that ravens will push their young out of the nest to make room (this is untrue–ravens are actually very supportive of their family). Other names are thought to have been lost in translation, or at least lost in time.

Looking for more names for collectives? Try any of these books! Otherwise, here are a few interesting ones I have picked out, with some helpful pictures to aid your memory:

An army of caterpillars

A smack of jellyfish

A shiver of sharks

A knot of toads

A murder of crows

Trivia Tuesday: Where does the ampersand (&) come from?

Trivia Tuesday: Where does the ampersand (&) come from?

The ampersand is a logogram (a character that represents a word) that dates back to the 1st centry C.E. In Roman cursive, the ampersand is “Et,” which is Latin for “and” (“Et tu, Brute?” = “And you, Brutus?”, “et al” = “and all”).

So how did “et” become the modern ampersand? Well, anyone that has dealt with cursive will attest that handwriting can and often is stylized to the point of illegibility.

As time went on, it became more and more stylized–and so it goes (or, et ita fit)! The word “ampersand” itself is thought to come from “& per se and” (“and per se and”).

Want to know more about etymology (the history of words)? Try any of these books.