A fun video explaining how the counting and number words in many languages are based on the body parts we use to count, fingers, toes, hands, feet, and more. And there are some interesting explanations of counting systems that were not based on the number 10 and which body parts they used (spaces between fingers, finger joints). For the interdisciplinary researchers out there, perhaps this is a good example of how biology affects both language and math.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


6 Thoughts on "Biology’s Impact on Counting Words"

I have not read the article, but I have a strong, negative opinion of the cartoon chosen. It should have a trigger warning, at the very least.

Interesting! But, yes, the cartoon caveman threatening to hit the cavewoman is pretty bad.

Sorry if this offended (I’ll change the image). I see it as two Cavemen (the exposed chest on both for example). But being sensitive to the concerns of others is a continuing learning experience, and I can see that both commenters here were upset, so I apologize.

Also the stereotype of the cavewoman being the one playing with the baby. Is this 2020 or 1980?
The only way a woman can appear in this is as a caregiver?

Amazing. Sometimes in the 2010s, it has felt as if the whole world we have made, from the tiniest exhaust particle to the most sprawling conurbation, is toxic. Our language has become precautionary and jittery. I look back at the past decade’s “Word of Year” from the Oxford Dictionary and find “safe spaces”, “trigger warnings”, etc. Viewed from the 2010s, the fraught 1970s can look like an age of innocence. God, we’ve become pathetic. David: do not change the graphic. It works.

That kind of seems like being stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn. While there was no intent to offend, the fact that I had to go back and review the video to make sure that the image was indeed what I thought it was (a screengrab of a drawing of two cavemen arguing) indicates to me that it’s not so far-fetched that on first glance it could be seen as something else. There’s no informative or artistic reason why that particular image is necessary for this post, so why not make an effort to reduce someone else’s pain? I’m reminded of this post, one that talks about the value of empathy, and the difference that it can make in our online experiences with one another:

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